By: Seth Johnson

Rachel Chen can best be described as a piano extraordinaire.

A student is seen sitting at a piano in the ISBVI piano lab with both hands on the piano. Behind him, Rachel Chen appears to be giving thoughtful instruction with a hand on the student’s right shoulder. Currently pursuing her doctorate in Piano Performance at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, Chen started her piano studies at the Levine School of Music in Washington D.C., where she received a “From the Top” scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. In 2007, she represented Taiwan in the 40th International Piano Competition in Usti nad Labem of the Czech Republic, before making her Carnegie Hall debut just three years later.

Having earned her Master of Music in Piano Performance and Pedagogy and her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance at the University of Michigan, Chen also has a passion for teaching piano to students with special needs, which is why music teacher Sean Bradley invited her to work with piano students at ISBVI.

“While I was studying at IU, Rachel and I were panelists on an Inclusive Music Teaching Panel put on by the Music Teachers National Association piano chapter at IU,” Bradley says. “While preparing for the panel, I learned that she has spent a lot of time teaching, researching, and better understanding how to teach students on the autism spectrum. Although she didn’t have prior experience working with students who are blind or have low vision, I knew that her experience teaching students with other disabilities would make her a great fit.”

On Feb. 1, Chen came to ISBVI, giving middle and high school students some individualized piano instruction. Although she had never worked with blind or visually impaired students before, Bradley says Chen quickly picked up on how to be accommodating.

“One of our middle school students couldn’t believe that was her first time teaching students who are blind,” Bradley says. “He came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Mr. Bradley, Ms. Rachel has worked with blind students before, right?’ After I told him that was her first time, he exclaimed, ‘No way! She knew exactly how to work with us — doing things like hand over hand — and she was polite to always ask before coming up behind us and letting us know she was nearby.’”

While the students were impressed with Chen as a professor, she admits she was also impressed with them as aspiring pianists.

“I was really impressed that they learn by just listening. That’s incredible,” Chen says.

On February 28th, Chen will return to ISBVI again, this time leading students in a masterclass before treating them to a recital in the school’s historic auditorium.

“She will be performing one of her final doctoral recitals at IU on March 2, so it’s all the more reason to have her perform for our students,” Bradley says.

Both of Chen’s visits to ISBVI were made possible with support from the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation.



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