Inspirational singer at Staley High succeeds in music despite total blindness

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s been said that seeing is believing.

That’s not necessarily the case at one Northland high school, where there’s something a little different about the school’s music groups.

Staley High School’s women’s choir has been a musical Mecca for scores of talented singers, including junior Grace Fisher. She’s been without the use of her eyes all of her life.

But many of Staley`s musicals, including the ongoing “Emerald City,” depend on cues from choir director Tracy Resseguie — signals Grace can`t see.

When the choir conductor sends his non-verbal cues, most singers in the women’s choir just follow along. Fisher, on the other hand, gets her cues from other choir members who hold her hand while performing.

Two years ago, when Fisher joined in, teachers and students designed a system of hand squeezes that tells Grace what she needs to know.

Fisher and others explained how one squeeze of her hand might be her cue to sing more loudly, while a different type of squeeze might indicate time to sing more quietly.

“I’ve always been into music. I wanted to be in choir,” Fisher said.

Without someone squeezing her hand, Fisher said this wouldn’t work, especially when the show goes into motion. “Emerald City” is an active performance, during which, choir members walk throughout the performing arts center at Staley High School.

On Friday morning, the choir demonstrated how fellow singers take Grace’s hand, while leading her in the lap they take.

“They’re just making sure that I don’t run into things, and I feel safe with the person I’m walking with. I think it’s just a trust thing. Some people who guide me, they’re not very good with it,” Fisher said.

Ellie Holloway, a new Staley High graduate who’s bound for Drury University, said she helped lay out the system that keeps Grace on her marks.

Holloway is proud that the remainder of the school’s choirs often perform while holding hands, a gracious tribute meant to help Fisher feel at home.

“It brings us all together. We’re all connected. We’re not just all standing there separated and singing. We’re all physically connected in a way and moving together,” Holloway said.

Resseguie, who said he also holds a position on the school’s football coaching staff, loves teaching kids to work together and to make music.

But some lessons matter more to him.

“It’s about what you’ve taught them and how they care for each other that’s really most important. I think the motion of the music helps us do that. We have the avenue and the vehicle with the emotional part to say — it’s OK to be vulnerable,” Resseguie said.

This inclusive spirit has spread from the theater into the school.

Resseguie said Grace never walks or has lunch alone. These choir members look out for her, showing a different kind of grace.

“Emerald City,” which is named to honor Staley High School’s building, has one more performance this Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the theater door, and the show is open to everyone.



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