Monday, September 10, 2012

Spotlight on Matt Weihmuller

Patel Conservatory music instructor Matt Weihmuller has had his share of challenges.

Although he’s been blind since birth, Weihmuller has never let his disability hold him back or keep him from pursuing a career in music.

“You get out of life what you put into it,” said Weihmuller, who teaches private saxophone lessons at the Conservatory.

Weihmuller is one of many new private lesson instructors as our music program has been growing exponentially in the past several months. The Patel Conservatory now has nearly 100 instrumental and voice private lesson students!

Weihmuller didn’t start out with the goal of becoming a musician. “I thought I’d go to college for business, but decided I couldn’t stop playing music.”

He grew up in Carrollwood and started taking piano lessons when he was about 10 years old. He played clarinet in middle school until his band teacher recommended he take up the saxophone.

While his classmates relied on sight reading to learn new pieces of music, Weihmuller had to rely on his ears.

Matt with his guide dog, Daisy, who goes with him almost
everywhere, except his private music lessons. "I would
literally be playing right in her ear." But Daisy does come
to most of Matt's performances.
“It was a daily struggle. Braille music is almost impossible to get,” said Weihmuller. His mother learned how to read music in braille and would sometimes transcribe his music for him.

In addition to the challenge of reading music, school work presented its obstacles. After school, he’d have to meet with a vision teacher who helped translate his assignments. That meant a lot of pre-planning on his part.

“You turn your disadvantage into an advantage. Because I had to plan, I was a much better student,” he said.

As a jazz sax player at Blake High School, Weihmuller was inspired when he saw Marcus Roberts perform in concert. Roberts is a renowned blind pianist who has toured with Winton Marsalis.

“Roberts was teaching at Florida State, so I decided I wanted to go there. I wanted to study jazz improv,” said Weihmuller, who went on to complete his bachelor’s and master’s in music performance at Florida State University.

In college, things got more difficult. He no longer had a vision teacher to help him through the process. He couldn’t access email or go on the internet, on which instructors relied heavily.

He had to teach himself how to use new computer programs for the blind. “I went from not doing anything on the computer to now, I do most of my stuff on the computer.”

Now he can surf the net, read email and, there’s even a new program that will allow him to scan pieces of music into the computer and it translates it to braille.

But even with new technology, teaching music can sometimes present new issues that Weihmuller has had to overcome.

“I can show (the student) everything I’m doing on the instrument, but I can’t look at someone’s position... or tell if he’s holding his fingers correctly,” said Weihmuller.

Without his sight to assess a student’s posture and breathing, he has to be creative in his approach. He may place his hands on the student’s to make sure his fingers are aligned properly, but mostly Weihmuller relies on the sound of the music.

“I think my ear is a little more developed, so I have that advantage.”

Perhaps the most important lesson he imparts to his students is what his parents and teachers have taught him, that nothing worth doing comes easy.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate. I got to study with some great teachers. And I grew up with a strong family background, that’s helped out a lot,” said Weihmuller. “I’ve had to work twice as hard. But I was able to impress upon my teachers that I was a really hard worker.

“If you really want to do it, you’ll find a way.”

Weihmuller currently plays in a band called UNRB. They play a mix of funk, blues and rock and even had one of their songs played on Tampa's 97X radio.

In addition to private lessons, Weihmuller will soon be coaching a new jazz quartet at the Conservatory.

In addition to private lessons in a variety of instruments including saxophone, piano, guitar, violin and more, the Patel Conservatory has an array of music programs from voice lessons and choir to Rock School. For more information, please call 813-222-1002.


  1. This is so inspirational! Imagine if we all were as committed to our crafts...Thank goodness he found such a passion in music.

  2. This is wonderful - so inspirational! Thank you!