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Photo: Kevin Spurgaitis

This church music director is blind and madly talented

Kara Shaw discusses performing on national stages, the blessing of being adopted and her disabilities.

By Paul Knowles

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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