News From 1958
Cedar Valley Daily Times
Saturday, July 5, 1958.
Sight-Saving School Band to Perform for Lions Meet, Chicago
IOWA CITY, Iowa, — A band of blind and near-blind youngsters from Iowa's Braille and Sight-Saving School at Vinton will march and play in the Lions International Convention parade in Chicago July 9.
Iowa Lions purchased the band's uniforms and will pay for transportation, hotel and meals.
Three-fourths of the 34-member band and color guard are blind. The rest have some vision, ranging from almost none (the ability to distinguish light from dark only) to 20/200 after correction (seeing with glasses at 20 feet what the normal eye can see at 200).
The band started marching lessons last September when John Best began his job as its director. He worked first with the seeing students, who later became the guides for the blind members of the band.
"I taught one person at a time," Best explains. "Private lessons in marching, you might call it. Gradually we built up the marching units to full band strength."
When the band marches, musicians with sight will be on the ends of each rank; the blind in between.
To gain concert and travel experience, the band visited a dozen Iowa towns during the winter, presenting concerts sponsored by the local Lions club. Proceeds of the concerts went to the Iowa Lions Sight Conservation Foundation.
One, two-day tour included concerts at Wyoming, Anamosa, Olin and Springville; another took the band to Diagonal, Bondurant, Creston, Fairfield and Mt. Ayr. The band also made a one-day trip to Mt. Vernon and Iowa City.
The Iowa Lions Sight Conservation Foundation was established about five years ago to provide a seeing eye dog to any blind Iowan who requested it. Its activities have been expanded to include buying a typewriter for each graduate of the Vinton school, establishing an eye bank, and providing support for and help in selling products of the Goodwill Industries at Sioux City.
Cedar Valley Daily Times
Monday, July 7, 1958
Blind Children in Marching Band Here
A chance glance out a window where a group of youngsters were roller skating below led to the formation of a marching band at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School at Vinton.
John Best, director of music at the school, said that up until he saw the totally blind youngsters roller skating without assistance he was convinced they could not march in a band.
Best said, "if they can roller skate, they can march." That was the beginning of the band, in which 75 per cent of the 34 members are totally blind youngsters.
Next Wednesday the band will march and play in the Lions International Convention parade at Chicago. Iowa Lions will pay for the trip. They have already bought the uniforms.
Best explained that the school, which has some pupils who can see a little, already had a concert band, dance band and a "pop" band. But no marching band because everyone assumed the blind children could not march.
Best said by teaching "one person at a time" he gradually built up the band to full strength.
He pointed out the principle difficulty faced in the project was keeping the marchers properly spaced in straight ranks.
The bandmaster overcame this by having the members march at close-order so they were actually lightly touching one another. In addition, students who have some sight are located at the beginning and end of each rank to serve as guides.
Best related how one day, when several of the sight-saving members were ill, he still ordered the blind marchers out for practice. He said they still remained "pretty well in rank," and then exclaimed, "I don't know how they do it."
Best said the students visited several other Iowa schools giving concerts during the winter and claimed that the experience of contact with sighted youngsters was a "good thing."
He explained the blind band members have the same desires as other teenagers, "including a leaning toward rock 'n roll music," and want to be accepted.
The bandmaster said the band has provided a "good musical experience" and perhaps will help improve the lot of the blind in Iowa.
He explained that Gov. Herschel C. Loveless recently said Iowa was 48th in the employment of the blind.
Best, in his first year at the school, said "I would like to help improve that."