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Music is a refuge for visually impaired student

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Updated: September 6, 2012 6:20AM

A melody floated up the steps and onto the porch where it greeted Dionne Linton, who welcomed the sound track to a late spring day.

“Play me another one,” she called down to her son, Christian Bradford, 21, as his fingers moved across the piano keys.

“He has to be surrounded by music all the time,” she said to her visitor. “That’s his passion, that’s his life, his love.”

Music has been soothing her son, who is visually impaired, since he was a child. Bradford was born with Septo-optic dysplasia, a syndrome that affects hormones, brain and pituitary glands. It wasn’t until he was two years old that Linton found out about his vision.

That’s when music became Bradford’s refuge — with the piano his instrument of choice.

He took a few lessons but quickly became frustrated because he just wanted to play. Leaving the classes behind, he learned to play by ear.

“I could listen to jazz every night,” Bradford said. Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis top Bradford’s list of favorite artists.

“He cannot sleep without music on, so music is on in his head all the time,” Linton said. Not only can Bradford play any music he hears, he also writes his own music. Inspiration came about a year ago when he spent time in the hospital for jaw surgery.

“The nurses would ask, ‘How come you never look up, you always look down?’” his mother said.

Not realizing he was visually impaired, they would tell him, “Look up so I can see your eyes.”

When Bradford came home, he asked why everyone wanted to look into his eyes. That night he wrote his first song: “Everybody looks into my eyes.”

“The songs sounds better when people are listening,” said Bradford, who also plays as part of his job at Hope D. Wall School in Aurora, for students who are physically disabled.

Situated in the front hallway, passers-by shout out requests as Bradford diligently plays every song in his song book.

“It’s really good for me to just practice,” he said.

And practice he does, every day, both in the hallways of school and in the basement of his home, leading up to a big performance at this year’s Hope Wall graduation ceremony.

“He likes the energy of a crowd,” Linton said. “It boosts his confidence when they are clapping and singing.”

After helping set up the gym for the ceremony, Bradford zipped up his shiny blue gown and walked out to greet the rest of his classmates who were being showered with hugs, tears and camera flashes.

When they finally had a moment to sit, a friend asked, “Are you nervous?”

To which Bradford quickly replied: “I’m never nervous.”

His opening number, “The Star Spangled Banner,” drew applause and cheers as well as tears from the crowd. They knew, after 20 years, this would be one of the last times Bradford and his fellow graduates would be at the school.

Silence swept across the room and all eyes were on the young man dressed in blue.

But to that young man, it was just him and his piano.

“Everybody....looks into my eyes...” his soft voice came flowing out of the speakers as his mom wiped another tear from her eye.

And as Bradford’s fingers found their way to the final keys. a wave of applause flooded the room. A smile that punctuated so many feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, relief and joy filled Bradford’s face as he made his way back to his classmates.

Walking back down the aisle, Linton —open arms filled with balloons and cheeks streaked with tears — jumped out of her seat to hug her child.

“You did great, son,” she said, as the pair broke their embrace and Bradford finished his walk out of the school.

Following his graduation, Bradford will be playing in the Vision Quest band at the Chicago Lighthouse for the blind this year, and continuing his music.

“This is just God’s gift,” Linton said. “His passion is the piano.”

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