Ken Medema: Every Blind Person Should Be So Talented

KenAtPiano KenCloseup KenRoger

If you read my post this past Wednesday, you know that I’m not facing either blindness or deafness. But that doesn’t mean I never wonder how either or those conditions would change whatever years of life I have left. As I pointed out, deafness would deprive me of some of my favorite activities and ministries. But blindness would affect more areas of my life, including my writing.

I’m not sure blindness has a positive side, but I have a friend who has put such a positive spin on it I wanted to share it with you.

Back during the years I was teaching school, 1968-1974, a blind singer/song writer/pianist came to the school where I taught and gave a concert in the gym. Those were the days when a Christian performer was still welcome in the public schools.

Ken Medema wasn’t yet a full-time musician. His “day job” was music therapist with the state of Delaware. But he made a real impression on the students and on me.

At a later date Ken came back to Cambridge (Maryland) to do some music at the First Baptist Church. He was staying with the father and stepmother of one of my friends, who lived right behind me, and Blake had a crab feast for Ken that Saturday evening. I got to know him some then.

I learned some interesting things about blindness that weekend. Like how he knew to walk around a vacuum cleaner he couldn’t see and how he rushed around the car to open the door for his hostess!

I’m no longer sure how we came to know one another better except perhaps because he was willing to listen to a cassette tape of some of my music and send me me his comments. I’ll never forget getting that tape back with his recommendations taking the place of the music. He’d appeared at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention and was all sung–and all talked out–but he took the time to offer his help.

Flash forward a number of years. To early 2003. I learned that Ken would be doing a concert at the First Baptist Church of Richmond. But there was a slight problem. The evening of the concert was the same day Kathleen and I would be arriving in Richmond after moving her down here from upstate New York, and we were both exhausted from the drive.

But Kathleen knew how much seeing and hearing Ken again would mean to me, and was she ever glad we went to hear him! Ken recognized my voice and remembered me. Amazing…

We last saw Ken sometime around 2008 when he did another gig at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, and we picked up right where we’d left off before. The pictures above are from that reunion. We haven’t seen him since then, but we check out his website and know he’s still performing.

I’ve never seen Stevie Wonder perform, so I don’t know how similar he and Ken are, but Ken’s concerts are a wonderful experience. When he was learning to play the piano, his teacher challenged him to learn to improvise, and improvisation has become his specialty. At every performance he has members of the audience supply him with several random words. A moment or two later he’s singing and playing an original song based on those words.

Creating and recording personalized songs is an important part of his business. He’s also written some cantatas. One of the songs he’s most noted for–people are sorely disappointed if he doesn’t do this in a performance–is a hilarious song about Moses. Many people who’re familiar with that song probably have no idea that it was written by a blind musician named Ken Medema.

I have to apologize for something. I can’t do justice to Ken in a single blog post, but at least I’ve given you a little taste of someone who’s special to Kathleen and me. Incidentally, when my mother-in-law went to hear him in Memphis and identified herself in relationship to me, he reacted quite positively and told her what a good song writer I was.

Go, Ken!

Do you have a favorite musician, actor, writer, or whatever that you’ve established a limited but meaningful relationship with over the years? Please leave a comment.

~*~

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website.  Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My newest novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Go HERE for links to those places.
Tentative-Front-Cover
Best regards,
Roger

Which Would Be Worse–Blindness or Deafness?

I’m in pretty good health for a sixty-eight-year-old man who’ll turn sixty-nine in September. Although I have to take four or five different types of medicine just to keep my body in reasonably good working order, I’m probably not by myself on that.

I’ve had cataract surgery on both eyes, but I still have to wear glasses because of astigmatism. But at least my overall vision is better than it’s been in many years. So I’m not anticipating that I’ll ever go blind.

I’d hate to be without my hearing aids, no matter how unsatisfactory they are compared to “natural” hearing. But they are adequate, and I have no reason to anticipate going totally deaf, either.

So why have I chosen a topic like this one?

Perhaps you didn’t notice that I said I couldn’t anticipate going blind or becoming completely deaf. But I can’t say for sure that I won’t. And neither can you. Those things–like so many others in this earthly life–are beyond our control.

Comparing the loss of sight with the loss of hearing is almost like comparing apples and oranges, though. I take both of them for granted–probably equally for granted.

In a way, sight and hearing are two sides of the same coin. With my eyes I see my sweet wife, Kathleen. With my ears I hear her loving words. The same with our grown children and our grandchildren. How could someone easily choose between seeing the people he loves and being able to hear them?

It gets more complicated when I think about my normal activities.

Blindness wouldn’t hinder me from getting around at home once I got used to it, but while Kathleen is still young enough to have to work, I don’t know how I’d even make it to the nearby Sonic drive-in for my daily diet cherry limeade. Much less the various other places I need to go when Kathleen is normally not available.

I could learn to do my novel writing on a computer that’s designed for the blind, but it would take a whale of an adjustment to do things any differently from the way I’m accustomed to doing them now. And Personal Composer, the software I write my original songs down with, would be impossible to use without sight. Not even software that turned audible notes into notes on the page would be adequate.

If I were deaf, however, at least I could get around outside. But how would I communicate with the people I ran into? Even though deafness wouldn’t affect how I write, going to writers conferences and trying to interact with readers except electronically would be useless. Learning sign language at my age wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be a challenge I’d rather not face.

Writing songs and playing guitar around the house and at our church’s weekly nursing home ministry would be impossible without hearing. As would playing bass guitar on the praise team and singing in the church choir. Those are important ministries for me.

Oh, my! And those hundreds of CDs I could no longer listen to. And giving up the challenge of picking out new downloads each month from emusic.com.

Although we don’t watch TV now–we don’t even have rabbit ears on our TV set–we subscribe to Netflix and watch old TV shows. At least closed captioning would be available for some of those.

I suppose deafness would have advantages. Like not having to listen to all of that distracting noise in restaurants. Or the sound of other people’s loud car stereos. Or the grinding of the garbage truck doing its pre-dawn pickup at the Arby’s behind our home. Or any of a million other things I would gladly give up having to listen to.

I know I’m barely skimming the surface of how blindness and deafness would affect me. But if I’m forced to say that my writing is just slightly more important than my music, then blindness would be worse. Honestly, though, I’d hate to have to adjust to either problem.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Please leave a comment.

~*~

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website.  Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My newest novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Go HERE for links to those places.
Tentative-Front-Cover
Best regards,
Roger