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Touching Music

Claire McGlew

UWA's first vision impaired music graduate

Although she was born legally blind, Claire McGlew never let her disability hold her back. Whilst her journey to becoming a music teacher was more challenging than most, she never let impossible stand in her way.

Claire was born into a musical family, where the practice and enjoyment of music was a part of everyday life.

“I learned piano from the age of five and began violin lessons when I was eight. Singing was an everyday occurrence in our household.”

Throughout her schooling she had regular contact with the Vision Education Service, who taught her to read and write in braille. Just as importantly, they showed Claire and those around her that being vision impaired wouldn’t stop her from reaching her goals.

“I immersed myself in music. I took up singing and viola lessons. I sang in several school choirs and played in the string and symphony orchestras, I took part in school musicals and joined the WA Children’s Choir. I did Music for my TEE and it was definitely my favourite subject. When it came time to choose University courses I really had no idea what I wanted to do."

Claire McGlew
Claire McGlew

“My parents encouraged me to pursue music even though I couldn’t see a career in it. They believed it was better to follow your passion and make a career out of it than to choose a course of study purely because there would be a job at the end of it.”

Claire McGlew

Claire was the first vision-impaired student to study music at UWA, which meant there were a lot of hurdles that she and her mentors had to overcome.

She found staff and students at UWA were prepared to be generous and flexible with their time; helping Claire to focus on key outcomes she wanted to achieve. 

“I was fortunate enough to go to uni with a fantastic group of people, who never failed to help me out if I asked for it, or leave me alone when it looked like I knew what I was doing.”

“From the beginning I was meeting with my lecturers and trying to work out how I could access all the materials and complete the course work…I often worked with a scribe for exams and assignments. I would dictate the music and they would write it down in print. This is because, at the time, there was no easy way of converting braille music into print and vice versa.”

Claire was a second soprano with the Winthrop singers for four years. Dr. Nicholas Brennon conducted the choir, and also mentored Claire throughout university. When possible, music was sent to Melbourne to be converted into braille; when there wasn’t time, she would have to memorise her parts by ear.

“I suppose an impossible is learning an entire Latin mass by William Byrd with no music. I did that sort of thing regularly.”

Claire McGlew

Although she began her degree studying music performance, she later discovered that her true passion lay in teaching. During school placements, Claire found that the staff and students she worked with were open to her methods of teaching, which were slightly different to what they were used to.  Although there was trial and error, Claire never came across anything she couldn’t teach.

“Getting my degree was a huge achievement. I enjoyed that graduation ceremony so much. My whole family came to help me celebrate. It was very emotional and very satisfying.”

As a teacher, Claire hopes to pass her passion for music on to her students. Whilst she teaches theory and playing technique, she believes that what’s most important for them to learn is that music is powerful.

“It expresses who you are, how you feel; it builds resilience. I want my students to find confidence in themselves through music.”

“There is really nothing that is impossible. Think about the desired outcome, then find another way of getting there. It won’t be easy but it will be so satisfying when you get there.”

Claire McGlew

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