With his ingenuity in music, Harry Rheeder might be our own future Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles or could be compared to the popular blind musician couple of Mali Miriam and Amadou.
Rheeder alongside the other blind musicians have shown that sight is not necessary a prerequisite to be a fine musician.
It is difficult to tell he is blind when you find him playing piano for his church choir blind when a member of the choir leads him away at the end of the song.
Rheeder (25) had an eye infection retinitis pigmentosa when he was a baby. The infection left him blind when he turned nine months.
However, it did not stop him from exploring his musical passion. He plays multiple instruments such as piano and drums and has done different performances at schools, talent shows and various functions like the teachers’ conferences.
Retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary progressive retinal eye disease, starts with one experiencing difficulty seeing at night or in low light before losing periphery sight.
In most cases it is familial or inherited although some cases are sporadic and lack a family history. Retinitis pigmentosa is a common cause of blindness.
Rheeder is the only one in the family with the disease and although he was not born blind, he describes himself as blind from birth.
“For me, I was always blind because I do not recall ever being able to see anything. My doctor told me that at times, the disease progressively takes time for a person to be totally blind but unfortunately my case was very severe and I became blind very early. I do not know the difference between day and darkness,” he says.
Rheeder started his musical journey while he was in Grade three when his teacher took him under his wing and taught him all the basics he needed in playing the piano.
He learnt music using Braille, memorising and listening to songs.
Growing up, Rheeder was not at first bothered with his blindness as he was too young to understand what was wrong until he was a bit older.
“When I was young, I did not mind my disease even though I was schooling in a pre-primary class with children who were able to see. However, when I started growing up it became more challenging for me,” he points out.
After pre-primary school, Rheeder could not continue to primary school as it required him to be able to read and draw which he could not do.
It was only when he turned 11 years that he was able to start primary school at a new school catering for visually impaired people where he stayed until Grade 10 after which he went to Technical High School (THS) in Academia.
Rheeder points out that although he is blind, he had learnt to do simple things such as cleaning, making tea, prepare easy dishes or warm some food when he is at home.
The football fanatic is able to narrate a whole game just by sitting in front of the TV listening and following action through commentaries.
He calls this ‘watching TV’ even if he technically can’t see.
In the future, Rheeder wants to carry his musical passion further and make music that tell stories and are really educational compared to the current music he finds to be promoting bad behaviour through their lyrics.
However, for now he takes things as they come and feels blessed by his family and friends.
“I am very blessed and happy with whom I am because of the support from a great family and some friends. I am sad though that most places such as libraries are not equipped for the visually impaired,” he says.