Article of the week: What a difference music makes!

26 March 2022

Joy Wilkinson (Exeter Temple) tells the remarkable story of her adopted daughter

Article of the week: What a difference music makes! (2)

I WAS born severely visually impaired. When I was 12 I started to attend a youth club at a nearby Baptist church and, at the age of 16, I gave my heart to the Lord. As a teenager I was angry with God, because I didn’t see how someone like me could be of any use.

Eventually I trained as a teacher and, in 1992, I attended a conference in Bangkok for educators of visually impaired people. During the conference, I visited a school for the blind in Pattaya. That visit changed my life.

The next year I returned on my summer holiday with some badly needed equipment and spent nearly a month doing voluntary work. I really enjoyed it and they invited me to return the following year, which I did – and then did again every year for the next 14 years. I worked with children who were blind and children with additional needs, who normally received very little by way of education.

When I arrived in 2003 I asked them who specifically they would like me to work with. They introduced me to a little girl, named Anna, who was then four and a half years old and weighed just 22lbs.

Anna had arrived at the school a month previously and had not put on any weight. They were very concerned about her. She was not walking independently, talking or spoon-feeding and had not been potty trained. At the end of our three and a half weeks, she was beginning to walk independently, babble and use a spoon to feed herself. We had also formed a bond.

The headteacher, an indomitable blind Thai lady, said: ‘You could adopt her if you like.’

I would like to say that I spent many hours in fervent prayer but in fact I said, ‘Oh go on then,’ and began the long adoption process.

I finally brought Anna home to the UK in 2007. Over the next few years she learnt English and braille. She also showed some musical ability and, when she was about 14, began to play the trumpet. Two years later she started attending InFocus School, a specialist college for students with visual impairment and additional needs in Exeter.

She was still learning the trumpet but did not have the opportunity to play with other people. I wondered who might play brass instruments nearby. There were the Royal Marines at Lympstone or there was Exeter Temple Corps. I decided to try Exeter Temple.

I rang the corps officer who put me in touch with Peter Woolway, who was the bandmaster, and we attended our first practice. Halfway through, Peter invited Anna to get her trumpet out and asked what she could play. She could manage ‘Tallis’ Canon’ and ‘Abide with Me,’ but not in the right key. That didn’t really matter, though, as the rest of the band transposed as they played along.

Anna is completely blind so is not able to read conventional sheet music. Every week she learns a tune from the Army tune book, but I have to sing the notes to her before she plays them. Then, at band practice, she plays the tune she has learnt accompanied by the band, as well as listening to them play more complicated pieces.

Playing with the band has done wonders for her processing and listening skills and she enjoys the fellowship and the appreciation of her fellow band members. It was a special moment and great surprise to be made honorary members of Exeter Temple Band and presented with a beautiful certificate. The band and the corps have been a great blessing to both of us.

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