This fall, Timothy Jones begins his first semester at Georgia State University pursuing a Master’s in Piano Pedagogy. Blind since birth, Timothy is something of a keys prodigy, and it’s his dream to help others who are visually impaired find a place in society through music.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Timothy said. “Many blind people today are going to have to live on welfare the rest of their life because they were not given the tools and resources at the time they needed them. Now, there are a lot of blind seniors out there who went blind either in their teenage or early adult years, and because no one was able to give them a chance, there’s no way they are ever going to be able to find work.”
At an early age, Timothy exhibited exceptional musical ability. He had what musicians call “perfect pitch,” meaning he could aptly distinguish notes without training. When he was two, his mom, Nancy Jones, caught Timothy picking out the tune to “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris. Following the suggestion of a friend, she decided to put him in music lessons immediately.
But finding someone to teach him was easier said than done. “A lot of people were scared to take me on at that time for a twofold reason. One, because of my blindness and, two, because of my age,” Timothy said. So, his parents enrolled him in the Kindermusick program at Norcross First Methodist right down the road from their home. They tried private lessons with a few teachers, but their first break-through moment arrived after meeting Patti Bennett, a woman who Timothy has affectionately dubbed his personal “Anne Sullivan.”
“She was a pianist for our new church in Lilburn, and she was a pioneer in taking me on as her student. Bear in mind, this was the year 1999 going into 2000. All we had was dial-up internet, and there certainly was not much information in the library about how to teach a blind student to play piano, and to be honest, I don’t think there is much today,” Timothy contemplated.
It took much innovation on Ms. Bennett’s part to bring Timothy’s skills to a master level in only a few years. She practiced playing, while blindfolded, pieces she had memorized and developed a method to coach him. Years later, Timothy will vouch the method worked. “She was a trailblazer in getting me to where I am today,” said Timothy.
Ms. Bennett introduced her prodigy to organ playing in his preteen years, and he picked up lessons wholeheartedly with Ms. Karen Bunn, whom the family found through the Atlanta chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Hoping to bring his organ-playing skills to the same level as his piano playing, Timothy decided to study Organ Music Performance at Mercer University, where he graduated with honors with a Bachelor’s degree in May 2019. Timothy now begins his post-graduate journey with the confidence that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to.
Earlier this year, Nancy Jones caught wind that Gateway85 Community Improvement District (CID) was building a crosswalk across Beaver Ruin Road, not far from the Marta stop where Timothy would catch a ride to GSU. Wondering if the crosswalk was to include an audio feature for the visually impaired, Nancy walked to the site and met the project overseer as he was checking progress on the project.
“She asked if the system was audible. It was not,” said Michener, Robert Michener, the Director of Operations for the Gateway85. Michener and the other developers took Nancy’s suggestion to heart and invested $15,000 towards a Hawk Signal System to add a sound feature to their project, which cost $205,000 total.
Gateway 85 celebrated the project’s completion on Timothy’s 26th birthday on July 16th, where he was recognized as a guest of honor at an event attended by two of the project’s primary sponsors Georgia DOT and the Gwinnett DOT.
“It gives me hope,” he said, knowing it makes his commute to the Atlanta campus that much easier. “I had told my mobility instructor that I will never cross this walk unsupervised. I’ll either have a stranger or a family member come out and walk me across, or I’ll ride the bus all around the block. Thanks to this crosswalk, it will do a lot of things. It will aid in independence.”
While working towards his master’s, Timothy hopes to continue playing music at his church and to perform the odd paid gig on the side. “I’ve done a lot of things from informal to very formal. I played at something as informal as Lunch on the Lawn in Loganville to playing at the State Convention of the Georgia Council of the Blind and the National Convention of the American Council for the Blind, both in 2014. I’ve done a little bit of everything, “Timothy said. Bookings inquirers can message Timothy through the contact page on his professional website: Byfaithnotbysight.net.
Timothy also plans to hone the use of various access technology programs. He hopes that one day, he can develop more digital resources for the 267,100 visually impaired citizens who live in noninstitutional residences in the state of Georgia, as the National Federation of the Blind’s latest report shows.
“I’m hoping I can combine teaching piano and braille music to blind students with something with access technology for the blind. So, working as a tech support agent or doing some basic training for young children on how to use Jaw Screen Reader and perhaps the Good Feel music software by Dancing Dots.”
It’s all lining up for him, and Timothy is hopeful that at the fast rate technology is progressing, work opportunities for those living with disabilities will also expand. And he is taking steps to be part of the solution.
“We need more advocacy going on, especially for those blind people who are in the public school system. Those students need all the resources they can get,” Timothy said.