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This past August, I got a text from Steven, a friend of mine. He asked if I had heard about the SongSight Music Mentoring Retreat, a brand-new event being put on by blind American Idol finalist Scott MacIntyre and several of his colleagues who are plugged into the music scene. The group was searching for up to 10 blind and visually impaired singers and musicians from around the country to attend a one-of-a-kind music retreat. With my experience singing and playing guitar over the last several years, I considered throwing my hat in the ring for what sounded like a can’t-miss opportunity to rub elbows with fellow attendees and those who are closely involved in music.

After mentally kicking around the idea, I decided to give it a whirl. I recorded a short video of myself explaining why I thought I might be a decent fit for such an exclusive event. I also submitted a recording of a few songs I had performed. This was all part of the online application. After just over a week, I received an email congratulating me on my acceptance. I was a bit shocked to hear of this fantastic news, and it came much sooner than expected. While I have dabbled in music as a hobby, I certainly did not view myself as any kind of expert.

Leading up to the retreat held in November in Scottsdale, AZ, we learned of more details about the various activities in which we would be participating. It sounded better and better as each update arrived in my inbox. My mom and I booked a flight for the two of us, and of course my guide dog, Goldie, to fly out to Phoenix. The time arrived quickly for us to make our cross-country journey from Florida to Arizona.

After arriving and spending some time exploring the city, we started meeting some of the attendees at our hotel on Friday afternoon. I had no idea who was going to be there or if I would know anyone. It was a nice surprise to learn of some interesting connections I had to a few attendees. We then took a short van ride over to the venue, a spacious home in Scottsdale. We did some icebreaker activities, enjoyed a tasty dinner, and then sat back to listen to Scott and his band perform a handful of inspirational songs. That night, we sat around the campfire to sing and play music. It was quite a powerful experience as some attendees shared their stories of overcoming adversity and how music and their faith have made such a positive impact on their lives.

The retreat continued Saturday; I first got to sit down with Scott and two other attendees to work on my guitar playing and vocals. In just a short amount of time, Scott offered up some valuable advice to me that I’ve already tried to adopt in the time following this event. His main message to me was to sing with a bit more passion, emotion, and to “own” the words of any song I sing. He emphasized how this method is sure to turn heads when performing in front of others or for a recording. Plus, the four of us in this smaller group began composing the words and melody on piano to a new song. I was fascinated by the songwriting knowledge Scott shared with us, and again, I soaked up so much knowledge and experience from him on this front. The concept of “true” and “false” rhymes in lyric writing stood out to me most during this session.

In the afternoon, we paid a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). I was blown away by the diversity of instruments and music history at this fascinating venue. We all participated in a hand drum class, and the instructor taught us several different techniques. How our group spontaneously produced some super cool rhythms was so powerful. In addition, a large collection of instruments was available for us to try. I think the harp was my favorite among the ones I got my hands on. We also enjoyed another campfire experience that night, this time with smores.

Sunday brought the final day of the event. This was recording day. The group of attendees went into a makeshift studio, one of the rooms in the home. We began by recording numerous tracks for the “Let the Light In” single. We each had an earbud in one of our ears, and we listened to different sections of the track Scott had previously composed for the song. We then sang along with these sections, and a producer, Dave Bechtel (who has over 200 albums to his name), worked his magic by recording multiple takes of each section. It really opened my eyes as to how many takes are involved in perfecting just one part of a song. In addition to singing, he even recorded us clapping, making sounds with our mouths, and some cheering to be included at the end of the song.

After this lengthy group session, we then individually recorded our own parts of the song. My lines to record were as follows: ”Now don’t you fear the darkness, it’s brighter than it seems. Sometimes you have to close your eyes so you can really see. ‘Cause who you are today is never who you’re gonna be. Oh…let the light in.”

I admittedly was a bit nervous recording these individual lines because, unlike the group session, the spotlight was shining brightly on me. I did have multiple takes on each line, but I was ultimately pretty proud of myself for not spending all afternoon trying to make my voice sound perfect. I was also very happy with the feedback both Scott and Dave gave me on my voice during this session as well.

Wrapping up the retreat, we each had an opportunity to do an interview about the whole weekend experience to later be featured in a recap video. These interviews were conducted by Kurt Heinecke, another highly accomplished producer, photographer, and videographer who has worked with the likes of Dolly Parton and John Williams. We also had the chance to play around with several instruments at the house, including guitars, drums, and an accordion. I found the accordion quite challenging to hold because of how bulky it is, and I gained a lot of respect for those who play the instrument. I had never taken a good amount of time out to play the drums. Doing so actually lit a bulb in my mind that I might be interested in taking drum lessons someday to open the percussive side of my brain.

On the whole, I was completely in awe of my SongSight experience. It totally exceeded my expectations. I truly felt like the crew rolled out the red carpet for each attendee in so many ways. I cannot thank Scott, his team, the volunteers, and all of the attendees for welcoming Goldie and I with open arms into this empowering world for a weekend. I am forever grateful for having received such a unique opportunity to connect with individuals whom I never could have imagined being around just a few years ago. Who knew that my parents’ Christmas gift of a guitar and their encouragement for me to take guitar and voice lessons in the years afterward would lead me to an event comprised of such a special group of people in Scottsdale, AZ?

(Originally published by American Council of the Blind Next Generation at https://acbnextgeneration.org/2023/02/13/music-to-my-ears-replaying-the-2022-songsight-music-mentoring-retreat-by-greg-lindberg/)