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Vancouver Piano School For The Blind To Close After 70 Years


A Vancouver school that has been teaching blind men and women to tune and repair pianos for nearly 70 years is preparing to close. 

Opened in 1949, the School of Piano Technology for the Blind has graduated 320 students from more than 40 states across the country and 16 foreign nations. But in recent years, the school has struggled with low enrollment, graduating just two students this past December.

Don Mitchell, a graduate and the director of instruction at the Vancouver-based School of Piano Technology for the Blind.

Don Mitchell, a graduate and the director of instruction at the Vancouver-based School of Piano Technology for the Blind.

Molly Solomon/OPB

“We get a lot of interest, but when it comes down to signing up in the program and actually becoming a student, we have a real hard time,” said Don Mitchell, a graduate and the school’s director of instruction.

The school’s annual budget is about $300,000 this year. Mitchell estimated between 30 and 40 percent of that comes from student tuition.

“To lose that amount of your income makes it really hard to maintain a budget,” he said. “And we can’t continue this way.”

“The real tough question, and this is a question we’ve all pondered, is there enough interest and enough demand to have a program to teach blind people to tune and repair pianos?”

Many of the school’s graduates and alumni still contribute to the program. Some even work there, like Leal Sylvester.

Sylvester graduated from the program in 1997 and has been servicing pianos for a living ever since. He’ll soon take over as an instructor and head the piano tuning and repair services, which will continue after the school’s closure.

“It’s a sad day for me,” said Sylvester. “But it’s still something that is necessary. You can’t get funding for school if you don’t have students”

He hopes to bring back some sort of training in the form of internships in the future. As somebody who was born blind himself, he understands the importance of learning a skill that can turn into a job.

Instructor Leal Sylvester is one of 320 graduates from the School of Piano Technology for the Blind.

 

 

Instructor Leal Sylvester is one of 320 graduates from the School of Piano Technology for the Blind.    

Molly Solomon/OPB

“It brings a sense of pride, of independence,” said Sylvester. “Whether you work for someone or have your own business, as a blind person, it’s an accomplishment.”

All of the school’s assets will go into an endowment fund named after the School of Piano Technology for the Blind founder Emil Fries. It will also end retail piano sales, but will continue to offer tuning and repair services.

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