Where some people saw a blind woman, Grand Rapids Community College saw a burgeoning musician.
“This is the polar opposite of how I was treated in the rest of my school life,” said Hailey Cone, a 25-year-old GRCC voice major. “GRCC is an environment where they see me past my blindness and see me for my love of music.”
Along with singing, Cone has developed a keen interest in musicology, or the study of music. She recently joined the writing staff for “Inside the Score,” a YouTube channel with 272,000 subscribers that produces content to deepen the appreciation of classical, film and art music.
Cone’s first script about Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand” debuted Aug. 22 on YouTube and had nearly 86,000 views in its first week.
In the video, Oscar Osicki, creator of “Inside the Score,” included Cone’s personal reflection on how the Ravel composition inspires her as a person with a disability — and motivates her music studies.
“As a music student with my own disabilities and hardships to navigate, I come back to the left-hand concerto when I am consumed by self-doubt or fear,” Cone said. “Hearing that triumphant ending reminds me that adversity can be overcome – and even celebrated.”
But her musical path has had its challenges.
Cone’s vision impairment stems from complications from her extremely premature birth in 1996 at just 5 months gestation. She has no sight in her right eye and minimal vision in her left eye, even with glasses.
“I’m considered legally blind,” she said. “But I can cook, clean and I live life independently; the only real issue is I can’t drive.”
Cone enrolled at GRCC in 2016 after graduating from East Kentwood High School. Uncertain about a career, she considered English or social work degrees. But while taking an elective choir class at GRCC in 2018, her professor encouraged her to pursue a music degree.
“Music called to me a little louder,” Cone said. “I had this massive spark for music for so long, but it was extinguished over and over and over until I got to college, where it was finally ignited and taken seriously.
“From the start, all my GRCC professors have been extremely accommodating, encouraging and really generous with their time — I’m just sort of blown away by that,” she said.
Unable to read paper sheet music, Cone relies on her tablet to enlarge the music enough so that she can read it. She’s already enjoyed several semesters performing in GRCC’s Music Department’s College Choir, Concert Choir and Madrigal Singers.
Her love of singing, musicology and creative writing made her a perfect fit for “Inside the Score.” She chose “Piano Concert for the Left Hand” as her first script because Ravel is her favorite composer. He was commissioned a century ago to write the concerto for Paul Wittgenstein, a concert pianist who lost his right arm in World War I.
This semester, Cone is attending school, working on her second script and debating the next step on her musical career path.
“Hailey is one of our very best,” said Caleb Wenzel, GRCC’s director of choral and vocal activities.
This story was reported by Beth McKenna.