When Janice Turley was 39, she was focused on her teaching career – maybe a little too focused. She had converted after raising her children and was in her second year of primary education in Hulme, Manchester. Often she worked 70-hour weeks. One of the school principals said she needed a night off.
The governor took Turley to see a steel band at a local school. It was taught by Anglo-Trinidadian musician Arthur Culpeper, one of the pioneers of steel band music in the UK. The room was large and drafty, but the atmosphere was great. “There was a buzz of chatter,” says Turley. Learning to play the steel pan was addicting. Culpeper was gentle and patient with newcomers. “Arthur stuck me on bass,” Turley recalls, “I never looked back.”
Thirty years later, Turley, now 69, teaches the steel pan to a group of 15 visually impaired and hearing impaired adults on the street in Stockport. Every Tuesday at 9 a.m., she arrives with her husband, Barrie, to set up the rehearsal space. Sometimes her friends Keith and Irene, and her sister Pat, help. Because most players are visually impaired, they cannot read sheet music. Turley created a system of brightly colored stickers, stuck to the notes on the pans, so visually impaired players can follow along. The stickers are adapted to the specific visual impairment of each player.
“I sit in the bass section,” says Turley, “and close my eyes. I think about how he can move. Can it twist far enough to hit that note? »At 1 pm, the players arrive and chat. When Turley wants their attention, she drums. The session ends at 2:15 p.m., and Turley and Barrie put everything away. She feels exhausted. “I come home and lie down on the floor,” she said.
Turley did this every Tuesday for a decade without payment. “She really enjoys what she does and her patience and skill in making things as easy as possible for her players is heartwarming,” said her friend Vivien McDougall.
What makes Turley’s contribution more remarkable is that she too is visually impaired. Her eyesight started to go away in 2017. “I looked at Strictly. one night, ”she said,“ and there were two of everyone on TV. She has cataracts and a condition called myasthenia gravis. She’s waiting for an operation, but right now Barrie has to take her everywhere.
“It’s the blind leading the blind,” she jokes about the group. Coordinating a group of visually and hearing impaired people can be difficult. “Sometimes people keep playing because they don’t realize that everyone has stopped,” she says. “They are having a little too much fun! She has to be creative to keep everyone on time. “We have a deaf woman,” she says. “I put her on bass so she could feel the beat in her body.”
Turley hits the beat a lot. His feet still hurt the next day. But is it worth it? “It’s a great atmosphere. It buzzes in there. No one ever wants to come home.
They play all kinds of music: big band swing, pop, calypso. They performed at the local beer festival and put on Christmas shows at a commercial park. During shows, Turley and Barrie wear it all on their own. “The players can’t help,” she said, “because they can’t see. We have to haul five 45 gallon barrels of oil up the stairs. It’s very tiring.”
But Turley isn’t complaining. She gets joy from the steel band. “You are defined by other people when you have sensory loss,” she says. “People think you can’t do things. So there is a big buzz in watching everyone come together as a team. “
I know exactly how Turley will react when I ask permission to do something good for her. “I do things for other people,” she says. “Not the opposite.” After some polling, she mentions a teddy bear that her father bought her on the day she was born. The beloved Mr. Teddy is now in pieces in a shoebox. Her 94-year-old mother, who is in a nursing home, helped her get the bear repaired.
Fortunately, Alice’s Bear Shop in Dorset has a free bed for Mr. Teddy, which is carefully transported from Stockport to Lyme Regis. A medical evaluation concludes that Mr. Teddy was “loved in pieces”, and he is admitted for treatment. Clinicians keep Turley up to date with photos before sending him a final image of Mr. Teddy recovering in a hospital bed.
A few weeks later, the fully recovered bear is on his way home. Turley calls me as she takes delivery. “He’s gorgeous,” she says enthusiastically. “Gorgeous! He’s got a little bow tie, and there’s a hospital bracelet around his wrist that says ‘Teddy Turley’. Do you want to hear it? Wait a minute.” I hear Mr. Teddy announce himself with a strong growl over the phone.
She plans to take the teddy bear to her mother’s nursing home for a reunion. “She’s going to cry,” said Turley. Then Mr. Teddy will go on tour with Turley’s Steel Pan group. “I’m going to have to find the music for the cubs picnic, right?” Turley laughs.
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