The Ohio State School for the Blind Marching Panthers Band, known as “The Best Blind Band in the Land,” added performances in the 2020 Outback Bowl to its list of esteemed appearances. With students in 7th through 12th grade from all around Ohio, the ensemble was the lead band in the Outback Bowl New Year’s Eve Parade and then participated in a mass band at halftime on New Year’s Day.
How do the students with little or no vision learn music and march, you may wonder?
The band started in 2005 to play at football games for its sister school, the Ohio School for the Deaf. What began as a pep band quickly rose to international prestige.
Director Yolanda Johnson uses a combination of solfege, large print, and music braille to teach the students. Volunteers from the community serve as marching assistants to help guide students around the field.
“It’s always funny because when we’re learning the halftime show, … the kids usually learn it before the adults [who are the volunteers],” Johnson says.
Johnson says that most schools don’t have music classes for blind students, partly because training programs to teach music to the visually impaired are rare or nonexistent. She learned to read music braille on her own.
“It’s starting to happen, but there’s still a long, long way to go,” Johnson says. “I try to make our kids understand that what they are doing is impacting other kids.”