It’s not every day that one encounters something truly extraordinary. Especially as students, there aren’t a lot of opportunities in our ordinary schedules when we come upon something that actually fascinates us—something that makes us stop and really reflect on human ability and the inner mechanisms and functions of our brains. Those that attended Friday’s ‘Playing by Ear’ concert in Devlin 112 did, on the other hand, have one of these rare and captivating experiences in seeing Brittany Maier perform a wide range of covers and a few original songs on her keyboard.
Maier is blind and has autism. Born four months earlier than expected, weighing 1 pound and 5 ounces, Maier was kept in an oxygen tank. During that time, she lost her eyesight. She spent six months in the hospital before she was finally released to her parents. Some time later, she was diagnosed with autism.
Unable to fully communicate, Maier’s story was told by her mother, Tammy Maier. Tammy told the audience squeezed into the small classroom how they came to understand Maier’s gift and about all the exciting and phenomenal experiences Maier has had because of her skills. Maier, who is now 27, has played at Citi Field as well as Carnegie Hall.
The main bulk of Maier’s performance, which was arranged by Boston College’s chapter of Best Buddies, was made up of covers spanning an unparalleled spectrum of styles, artists, and music periods. Maier has perfect pitch, which allows her to identify and play back notes without looking at sheet music. This has allowed her to memorize a vast catalogue of songs. Maier’s mother says that her family stopped keeping track of how many songs she had performed at about 40,000 songs. This isn’t to say that Maier could produce any of these songs in an instant, but, to some extent or another, they are all in her head somewhere.
Maier’s performance of audience requests Friday evening proved her ability to traverse a wide swath of very different song choices spanning several decades. Songs like Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” and Beyonce’s “Halo” are probably very rarely, if ever, played in the same set. Alongside these songs could be found other hits from One Direction, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, The Beatles, Justin Bieber, and a few of the more memorable songs from Disney’s constantly expanding library of animated musical numbers.
Midway through the evening, one of BC’s a cappella groups, The Common Tones, squeezed into the front of the room to serenade Maier and the gathered crowd. The group masterfully performed Taylor Swift’s hit “Wildest Dreams” and Beyoncé’s “Love On Top.” While The Common Tones’ set was well done, it seemed a little odd, as the group sauntered in just before performing and left just after it had finished. This isn’t to say that The Common Tones’ appearance wasn’t appreciated—it just seemed a little awkwardly timed and disorganized, as some coordination with Maier and her mother could have melded the two acts together rather nicely.
At some point during the latter half of Friday’s performance, Maier’s mother asked a member of the audience to help with a demonstration. She asked the student to play a few notes for Maier that she would then play back for the audience. After running through this a few times, Maier took one of the sets of five notes the student played for her and turned it into a full, original song. This small example of Maier’s musical ingenuity was extremely impressive and demonstrated her inventiveness at the keyboard.
‘Playing by Ear’ gave attendees an unequalled experience. Seeing Maier jump between decades and styles of music with such proficiency was spectacular, and hearing her story told by her mother was incredibly inspiring. The love between this mother-daughter duo is palpable and witnessing the devotion that the two have put into their artistry and into each other tugged at the heartstrings. As far as on-campus arts events go, there will probably never be anything resembling this one for some time to come.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor