Reader-Submitted Writing

Contributor Audrey Joy – A Life in Music: Making and Motivating It

Originally written by Sabina Mollot, published in Town & Village on July 26, 2012.

Fans of pop standards, show tunes and pop songs from just about any era might want to head to Adriatic restaurant on Thursday evenings, when Audrey Joy, a singer/songwriter and keyboard player regularly performs.

Joy, a Stuyvesant Town resident and former longtime music teacher, has been a popular fixture at the First Avenue restaurant, one of its owners recently said, since she began singing there a couple of months ago.

Recently, when talking to T&V, Joy said just plays any kind of music she’s asked to from any era, but is often requested to do Sinatra as well as classic pop songs, and if kids are in the audience, she’ll switch without being asked to familiar show tunes like “Annie” or “The Sound of Music.”

Being blind, Joy will ask the waiters the approximate ages of diners as they come in and then play what seems appropriate.

The performer, who has been blind since birth, said she’s never let her disability keep her off a stage. In fact, said Joy, who attended regular public schools where she was always the only blind student, “I was always the first one to sign up for a show.”

Years later, when teaching special ed classes, Joy continued to stay close to the stage, always making sure she could put her students in shows, too.

“Some of them couldn’t even talk,” she recalled. “But,” she noted, “I would give them a sign to hold up.”

More recently, her gigs have been the Adriatic shows where she’s been the one doing the performing, and on July 25, Joy was featured in a Women in Music showcase at Gizzi’s in the West Village.

Meanwhile, she also runs a nonprofit called AJL Music with partner Calvin Stevens, who also lives in Stuyvesant Town. The organization (formerly known as AJL Music) is devoted to helping urban kids develop skills they need to pursue careers in music. The partners have also formed a for-profit offshoot of the group called Futura aimed at giving those kids, once they’ve been through the AJL program, additional artist development skills.

“It was based on the premise of: Why are we pawning these people off to someone else?” said Joy. “For a fee we help them with the next steps of their career direction,” she said.

In her 15-year-long education career, Joy, now 53, has taught music at several high schools, including Manhattan Comprehensive Day & Night School, Manhattan Theatre Lab, Repertory High School for Theatre Arts and Bayard Rustin for the Humanities. She taught special education at District 75 and has also tutored music and other subjects at New York University and Braille at the Lighthouse for the Blind.

As for her own education, Joy graduated from NYU with a degree in music business and then got her master’s from Hunter in music performance. She got her start in music much earlier than that, though, if you count the toy piano she got from her mother when she was two. Joy was seven when she graduated to a real piano though, a donation courtesy of a music store in upstate New York.

This happened after a teacher asked Joy what her three wishes were. Her first one was for eyesight (though she now confesses she said that mainly since it seemed to be a big deal to others who were always telling her things like, “I wish you could see this.”) The second wish was for a father, because hers died when she was 16 months old. The third wish was for a piano. The teacher told Joy she’d see what she could do about wish number three, and then, unbeknownst to the girl or her family, placed an ad in a local paper, asking for someone to donate a piano to a blind girl. (At this point Joy was living in Nassau County, though as a child she moved around a lot with her family to different areas of New York City and State, such as Suffern, Queens, Monticello and Nassau County.)

Not long after the ad was placed, “The calls started coming in,” said Joy. One was from a music store called Jack Kahn, whose owner was willing to provide a piano from Hofstra University that had been refurbished.

“He said, ‘Don’t take anyone else’s junk,'” recalled Joy.

That’s when she began taking piano lessons, playing everything she could learn by ear and liked, especially songs from “The Sound of Music.” When there seemed to be no more she could learn that way, Joy began taking lessons in Braille music reading at the Lighthouse.

Later in life, Joy would teach others to play the same way she initially did, through music the student actually wanted to play and no dependence on sheet music.

“Love the piano first, love the music,” she said. “When you’re a kid you don’t want to read music. They get enough of that in school.”

Audrey Joy performs at Adriatic, 321 First Avenue, every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. No cover. Customers who bring this article will get a 10 percent discount if they order an entree.

Contributor Bruce Atchison – The Invictas: America’s Most Successful Garage Band

There seems to be a trend in the music industry where once-popular sixties acts are reuniting, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Herman’s Hermits being only two which are currently touring. A lesser-known but just-as-good group which reformed recently is The Invictas.
With their garage band sound still relatively intact, the four original members and two new musicians toured in 2005 and 2006, delighting rock music fans of all ages.
It all started during 1960 in Rochester, New York when Herb Gross heard a group of older teens practicing rock music instrumentals in the basement of the house next door. He and a few local friends decided they should form a group of their own. After doing a bit of brainstorming with school friends, they named the band after Buick’s car called the Invicta.
A local college bar, Tiny’s Bengel Inn, was looking for a house band and hired Herb’s group. As they perfected their sound and changed a few band members along the way, The Invictas began playing gigs at colleges up and down the east coast and even in
The Invictas’ provocative single hit song, The Hump, was inspired by a couple of dancers in front of the stage at Tiny’s who were “humping,” as they called it, to the music. Herb thought the idea was so interesting that he wrote the lyrics and the tune in one
week. A record producer from Buffalo, Steve Brodie, heard the song and asked the band about recording it. Since the band members were accustomed to live performances and playing The Hump in the studio made the song sound uninspired, Herb invited 30 friends, bought several cases of beer, and The Hump was recorded. In fact, their first album, Invictas A Go-Go, was completed in one weekend and released on the Sahara Records label.
Radio stations were rather prudish in 1966, refusing to play the hump because of it’s title and suggestive lyrics. The record was even banned in Boston, a fact which the band members still treasure. After hundreds of fans flooded radio stations with requests, the record was allowed on the air. It went to number one in Miami and made the top one hundred in America during August of 1966. In Rochester, some record stores were reporting that The Hump was even out-selling The Beatles.
The members, aping the British groups popular at that time, wore English riding boots, turtlenecks, fur jackets, and grew their hair long. It was around that time too when the band started driving a 1955 Cadillac hearse on stage as a promotional gimmick. During the height of their popularity, they also played with famous acts like The Young Rascals, Gene Pitney, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, The Shirelles, and Otis Reading. Later, they opened for The Beach Boys. The Invictas also appeared on some local TV shows and played at the Watkins Glen Race Track.
The invictas became so popular that they required police escorts, had their own fan club, and attracted plenty of eager female fans. Girls waited for them on their front lawns and called them on the phone at all hours of the night. Bass player, Jim Kohler, came home
late one evening to find that some groupies had actually broken into his apartment and prepared a meal for him. Herb was once chased by a crowd of girls across a street and into a department store, where he hid in a ladies’ changing room.
Problems soon plagued The Invictas. Their hearse, which sported gold racing stripes and the band’s name in bold yellow lettering on the doors, proved to be unreliable, breaking down often on the way to gigs. Then the Vietnam war caused the band to break up. The
Invictas did reunite in 1980 for a festival tent gig. Then again in 1995, they played another gig, recording Long Tall Shorty and The Hump 95. Apart from those performances, the members remained at their day jobs.
Throughout the years, Herb had established his own advertising agency and was earning a substantial income. While he visited Invictas member Dave Hickey, Dave’s wife Marilyn suggested they go to a blues club called The Dinosaur and see a group named The Mary Haitz Band. Mary heard that the two Invictas members were there and asked them to play a number. Dave declined but Herb performed Long Tall Shorty. The crowd became excited and called out for him to play The Hump. Herb, having a Blues Brothers moment, realized that he had to get the band back together one more time.
The Invictas toured in 2005, launching their ’60s’ tour at a bar called the California Brew Haus. The members enjoyed the experience and crowd reaction at various venues so much that they toured again the next summer and recorded The Skip ‘N Go Naked tour live CD, named after a popular Tiny’s Bengel Inn drink made with gin, beer, and lemonade. Herb also found a 1984 model Cadillac hearse for sale in Oklahoma City and had his friend Dan Parsons customize it to look like the original Invictas vehicle which had long ago been sent to the junk yard.
The ’60s tour covered the northeast states and parts of Ontario while the Skip ‘n Go Naked tour happened in upstate New York. The Invictas played various northeast U. S. gigs in 2007 as well. Though the band lost money, they all plan to play whatever gigs
they can find and continue rocking into their retirement years.
For more information regarding The Invictas, go to the website. It features band merchandise, including their 2 CDs and Banned In Boston, a live concert DVD. Herb also wrote Rock Till Ya Drop, a coffee table book about his group, featuring many photos of the band and their gear.
Bruce Atchison is a legally-blind freelance writer and the author of When a Man Loves a Rabbit (Learning and Living With Bunnies) and Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School). He lives in a tiny hamlet in Alberta, Canada with four house rabbits.

Contributor Anastasia Charalambakos – What happened to our voice?

When I think of life and of where it might lead, I see an endless map with hundreds of winding pathways. Fortunately, many of those paths in my mind’s eye lead to prosperity, to good self-esteem, and to self-contentment. Still, other pathways on my map lead to self doubt, to self pity, and to bitterness towards the world around us. Which of these roads do we seem to gravitate towards the most, and why so?

Throughout life, I have walked down many roads. Some of those included earning a university degree, traveling to northwest Africa for language study, and venturing out to start a small business. On the surface, it may appear as if I have been a winner at all that I attempted to achieve. This, however, is far from true. Many obstacles I encountered along the way were ample enough to shatter my self-esteem and my faith in humanity. Some of what I experienced was a direct result of my blindness. My abilities were often met with doubt by skeptical individuals who knew little about visual impairments. Gaining relevant employment for instance after university proved difficult. Moreover, my efforts to keep the family business I had started were unsuccessful. Yet, my faith in God and in life remained unshaken. I was determined to find a new pathway on my map and forge ahead with it. Turning the hands of time back was impossible. There was only the present to work with, and a brighter future to dream of.

I set out to complete a new degree in rehabilitation counseling with a long term goal of earning a doctorate in disability studies. I also set out to do volunteer work in my community and to teach English to non native speakers online. As I worked and attended conventions for the blind, I met numerous visually impaired individuals who, due to circumstances, took paths leading to poor self-esteem and to self-pity. Although they were intelligent, their bitterness and lack of motivation to keep pressing on hindered them in various ways. First, they lived on government supplemental incomes with little to no desire to alter their situations. Second, they had given up hope that perhaps they could find the path that lead to a more prosperous life.

While it is evident that society’s lack of knowledge of visual impairments leads to a high number of unemployed blind individuals, bitterness and caving in is not acceptable. Of course, it is easier to take the path that leads to self-pity by staying home and feeling helpless. It is easier to allow ourselves to be unemployed rather than uniting to stand against those who deny us the privilege of working. It is easier to allow ourselves to receive a monthly government check rather than seeking out vocational or college training. Seeking out the agencies to assist with our vocational and educational goals requires confidence and effort. It is however far better than allowing ourselves to remain a group that is for the most part underprivileged and underemployed. It is far better than yielding to paths of self-doubt and to self-pity because they are easier. It is far better than assuming the role of victim and placing blame on the world for our circumstances.

We can permit ourselves to complain about how the public views us or we can work to improve the services we receive from agencies not just for ourselves, but for future generations. We can elect to continue accepting the limitations imposed upon us by others, or we can take advantage of our abilities and the available technology to be contributing members of the world. Which of these choices do we want? I favor work productivity over continued acceptance of government income. Additionally, I favor more training among the blind so that as a whole, our social mobility could improve. Only through higher education, vocational training, and meaningful employment do we stand a chance of improving what we are in life. Moreover, due to the fact that the world holds many misconceptions about us, it is imperative that our social and independent living skills be at their best.

Far too often, I have encountered blind individuals who lacked the necessary social and independent living skills for functioning alone. If we wish to be viewed differently by society, we must keep refining our daily living skills. Without good skills, we are likely aiding in reaffirming deeply rooted prejudices in the minds of the sighted. Additionally, for those residing in parts of the world where services for the blind are limited, I encourage you to know yourselves and to have faith in your abilities. Find your talents and develop them to the best of your ability. If, for instance, you enjoy cooking and people complement your foods and desserts, consider how to start a small café. The path to success, and the fight to succeed, rests with us alone. We are capable of many successes by working together to enhance services we receive. Thus, I hope I have encouraged you to seek out knowledge and services that will aid with achieving your dreams. We each have a voice to be heard, and I hope I never find myself asking again what has happened to it.

Contributor Nancy Scott – HIPPA Laws Need Plans

I called Pauline to see how her first cane-travel lesson had gone. Her answering machine was full.  I knew that meant something was wrong.

She is a brittle diabetic who lives alone. I thought about it for an hour and then called the hospital.  Pauline was in Medical ICU and because of HIPPA laws I couldn’t find out why, or how she was.

I snagged another friend and we visited Pauline later that afternoon. The ICU nurse fortunately warned me that Pauline was on a ventilator and couldn’t talk.  Because of HIPPA, he could not tell me why.  Since Pauline couldn’t speak and I couldn’t see, the nurse had to describe her so I knew it was “my Pauline.”

After the visit, I called people who knew Pauline to let them know, and to get prayers into the air.  But I couldn’t go back for three days–the hospital lay-out was too challenging by myself.  I couldn’t get news about her either, because I didn’t know any contact person to call, even though we’d been friends for over 20 years.

When we went back, Pauline was miraculously awake and whispering and in a regular room. She recognized my voice immediately and said she’d been in a medically-induced coma for very high blood sugar.  I was amazed that she was alive, let alone alert.

But I could not have known any of this by phone. What would happen with a long-distance friend?  We need to check on friends who live alone.   And we need contacts and plans for our own unexpected emergencies.

Pauline is okay now.  And I now have a friend as my durable power of attorney, and I’ve created a list of people to call if something happens to me.  I don’t know if my plans will be carried out, but I do have some plans at least.

Contributor Nancy Scott – I’m Almost Old and Already Cheap

It was a warm Sunday in June and Kathy and I were bored. “We need something wild,” Kathy suggested.

“But what could we do that was wild?” I asked, unable to think wildly.

“Let’s go see the Sex and the City movie. I want to see it.” 

I also wanted to see it and, by now, it would be close to the end of its run. “That’s a great idea.” I knew wild when I heard it–wild for us, anyway.

As we pulled into the Regal parking lot Kathy said, “It’s nine bucks for you if you can believe that on a Sunday afternoon, but I’m over 62 so I’m a senior citizen. I get in for $6.75.”

We walked up to buy our tickets. Kathy announced to the teen-age girl in the booth that she could get the senior rate. “What about her?” the ticket-taker asked, referring to me.  Now I hadn’t planned to try for the discount so I said, “Well, I’m close.”  “OK,” the girl said, and charged me the lower price.

“Why do you think she did that?” I asked, surprised. “Do I look that old? Or maybe it’s my cane?”

“She can’t be more than 19,” Kathy explained. “We all look old to her.”

I will be 55 by the time you read this and I’m quite gleeful about my silver-gray hair and whatever else might get me discounts. Also, I’m amazed at how much better I feel after going out to do something unexpected. By the way, one bottle of water at the theater cost three bucks. Can young people afford going to the movies? “If we wanted popcorn,” Kathy theorized, “I’d probably have to write a check.”

Book Excerpt from Bruce Atchison

The Clandestine Tea Party
School administrators have banned an astonishing assortment of innocent objects and substances in recent years. Everything from a chicken finger that a boy aimed like a gun at another student, to a pair of scissors caused politically-correct officials to punish pupils and, in some cases, send them to psychologists for evaluation. One school even removed the word “gun” from a spelling test lest it might encourage violence. Because of sensational media coverage, some people might assume that this is a recent phenomenon resulting from school shootings. In 1969, the boarding school I attended prohibited two harmless beverages without explaining why. From my Deliverance from Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here is how it happened.
One aspect of human nature is that people gravitate towards the forbidden. An official in the Administration Building decided boys and girls should not drink coffee or tea. Mr. Robbie introduced those beverages to the Dining Hall a year previously. All of us students felt cheated when we heard the news.
One January evening, Geoffrey furtively announced, “I’ve got some tea and cream and sugar in my locker. You guys want some?” We gratefully accepted his generous offer.
Since he had a weak bladder, and needed to be woken each midnight to relieve himself, he promised to wake us after the night nurse was gone and then we would have tea.
At midnight, the night nurse woke Geoffrey as usual. After she was gone, he roused us and we tiptoed to the bathroom with our cups in hand. We ran the taps until they were as hot as they would get and then we filled our cups. Geoffrey shared a tea bag between the four of us in the way we had seen prisoners of war do in movies. Then we crept back to our rooms with our illicit brew. After we savored our contraband cups of tea, we went back to bed.
Night after night, we shared that harmless drink and giggled about the night nurse not even guessing at our clandestine activities. Our subterfuge was completely successful. Some time later, and with no warning, tea and coffee were permitted in the Dining Hall.
To this day, I have no idea why these beverages were first banned and then reinstated once more. As a result, we no longer needed to have our clandestine midnight tea parties.

Book Excerpt from Bruce Atchison

Bruce Atchison, one of our Canadian readers, is a freelance writer and author of a couple books.  He asked if he could submit a few excerpts from the books he has written and I told him that we’d be delighted to feature them.  Look for more of Bruce’s work in the future.

The Kraft of Kindness by Bruce Atchison

The following article was adapted from the book, Deliverance From Jericho(Six Years in a Blind School)

When I awoke from the wondrously vivid dream, my heart plummeted. I had not discovered a secret tunnel out of that horrid dormitory and escaped through it to freedom. I was not safely at home with my mom and sisters as we gathered around our kitchen table, about to eat lunch. I was actually lying in a Government of British Columbia bed, surrounded by bland white institutional walls and the beds of four other boys. I stoically willed myself not to cry as the cold light of day revealed the reality I had to face.

What hurt me most of all was that those lucky children who lived near Vancouver were sent home for Easter. The more fortunate “day kids” who lived in the city did not even have to stay overnight at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. They attended it as I once attended the local elementary school in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.

Consequently, these students were unable to relate to the experiences I and my fellow inmates endured for months at a stretch. Our parents and most of the staff could not comprehend our emotional agony either.

Only one act of kindness stands out in my mind during those exceptionally lonely weeks. Each night, a nurse would check in on us hourly to ensure that we were alright. The soft-spoken woman who substituted for the regular minder, befriended us. Unlike the supervisors, teachers, and other government hirelings at the institution, she sympathized with our plight. She even gave each of us a Kraft caramel before we went to sleep. We eagerly looked forward to this nightly treat and to this kind lady’s bedtime stories. Though we longed to be home with our families, this compassionate employee eased the heartache we all felt.

To this day, I fondly remember those cellophane-wrapped soft caramels and the genuine care that this woman showed us. Though she was only a temporary night nurse, her acts of charity made more of an impression than the supposedly noble deeds of those who regularly supervised us. Exceptional employees such as that tender-hearted lady, never had a dorm named after them or had a portrait hung on the library wall. Though I have forgotten her name, I certainly will not forget her generosity to us homesick boys during the Easter break of 1965.