Kara Shaw, who is blind and has Asperger syndrome, demonstrated amazing musical ability at a very young age. Today, the 28-year-old music director at St. John’s United in Belwood, Ont., performs on local and national stages. She spoke with Paul Knowles.
On being introduced to music: At the age of two and a half, I first played piano. My mom, Lynda, is a piano teacher — I was her first student. I also play the flute and the harp, and I play drums. They don’t come as easily to me as piano. Piano is my favourite. Sometimes I have to practise some stuff. But if I’ve heard it before, I’ll still remember it.
On what music means to her: When I play, it makes me feel good and it brings happiness to my life. I love the beat of the music, the rhythm.
On performing: I get invited to play in a lot of places — nursing homes, retirement homes, schools, parties and fundraisers. I get standing ovations. That makes me feel awesome. Playing at the Invictus Games [an international sporting event for wounded soldiers and veterans, hosted in Toronto last September] was pretty cool. I got to have my picture taken with the powerlifters, and I got to see the robots. I’m blind, so I mean I got to touch and listen to them.
On her job: I started as music director at St. John’s United in June 2015. I wasn’t nervous; I was excited to do it. I play music for the choir. My mom does the conducting when I need it.
On music and the church: I did not attend St. John’s before I became music director. My mom was music director at another church, and I often played there. Church has always been important to me, and I feel a special spiritual connection with the people at Belwood.
On writing: I do compose instrumental music, and sometimes it comes to me in my sleep. If I have to put words to it, my mom helps me with that. I wrote a song for my grandpa’s funeral.
On family: I was adopted at the age of 10 months into a musical family. My parents had applied to adopt a child with physical challenges. When they heard about me, my mom says they knew I was the right choice. We both call it “divine intervention.” I have an open adoption. I see my birth parents. My birth parents were scared of raising a blind child; they wanted what’s best for me. I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t get adopted into a musical family. There’s no music in my birth family. Being adopted by my family is a blessing. My life is awesome.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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