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 Media - Schools - Libraries
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10 Children’s Music CDs to Enhance Collections

by SLJ Reviews
Jul 01, 2022 | Filed in News & Features

Life Beyond Sight. Produced by Val Smalkin and the Maryland School for the Blind. CD. $10. 20 min. Small Kin Music Fun. 2022.
A songwriting workshop, led by Smalkin and held at the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB) for teens who were born blind, inspired students to write lyrics for three of the five songs on this EP. The lyrics are set to music composed and performed by professional musicians or organizations. “Not with My Eyes” features chanteuse Jamie Leonhart and reminds listeners that blind people can “see” using other means (including their hearts) and should be valued and treated with respect. “Dance of Freedom,” with music by Dave Kinnoin and Jimmy Hammer, is an upbeat tune sung harmoniously by the West LA Children’s Choir. “Lifeboat to Sanity,” performed by Sahffi Lynne, speaks of the power of music to bring calm to every listener. Two tracks are instrumental pieces. Orlando Enrique Fiol, a professional musician born blind, uses a jazz vibe to flesh out the tune “Not with My Eyes” as a piano solo. A graduate of MSB, ­Alexander Gringalus-Kern also tickles the ivories, playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Invention No. 1 in C Major.” VERDICT A stirring production that will bring awareness to the school and showcases the talent of young musicians from the Maryland School for the Blind. An excellent choice for all libraries.– Stephanie Bange

Kenny Curtis

Program Host

SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live


Life Beyond Sight is a collection of powerful songs that will make you listen close and sing out loud. From the moving and powerful “Not With My Eyes” to the joyous chorus of “Dance of Freedom,” these are songs that don’t merely “ring true,” they speak – no they SHOUT – with a clarity and honesty that is impactful in a whole new way.  These are wonderful, empowering songs, for sure, but be prepared to feel a little uncomfortable at times. There’s a courageous honesty from both the songs and the singers that helps them share their unique experience in ways that we all can relate to.  Most of us can only imagine what it’s like to not be able to see -- but each of us knows what it’s like to feel unseen in some way.  

John Wood

Insightful, deeply moving, musical treasures from the heart!

Despite what so many people in this world want people to believe, there is no such thing as a disability. The very term “disability” is a human construct. To that end, audiences who take in Life Beyond Sight, the brand new record from students at the Maryland School for the Blind should look at this record not for the fact that it was recorded by a group of blind individuals, but rather by a group of young, aspiring individuals that is also clearly talented. The talent is exhibited through all five of the record’s tracks, beginning with its opener, ‘Not With My Eyes.’ The song will be examined shortly. Its companion composition, ‘Not In My Eyes II,’ is another example of that enjoyment. It will be examined a little later. ‘Dance of Freedom,’ the third of the record’s five total tracks, is of note in its own right and will also be examined later. Each song noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the record. When they are considered alongside the record’s two remaining songs, the whole makes this presentation a unique musical offering.

Life Beyond Sight, the brand new record from students and staff of the Maryland School For The Blind, is an interesting genre defying presentation that will engage and entertain a wide range of audiences. That is proven right from the record’s opener, ‘Not With My Eyes.’ The song stands out in part because of its musical arrangement. The arrangement in question is a pop style work whose subtle beats and vocals also exhibit a certain R&B influence. The combination of those leanings collectively do plenty to make the song engaging and entertaining. When the edgy mood set through the song’s arrangement is considered along with the song’s deeply emotional lyrical content, the whole makes the song a powerful first impression for this record. The lyrical content centers on a protagonist who has been lied to by someone claiming to care about that person even despite her blindness, but who is clearly only in it for himself. This is made evident as vocalist Jamie Leonhart sings, “You want to be a hero/Pretend you’re my friend/I know you think I’m zero/Worth nothing in the end/You like to help the blind girl/When everyone can see/But, when no one is looking/You don’t see me.” The message becomes even clearer in the song’s chorus as she sings, “So I take a deep breath/Count to three/Pretend your pretense doesn’t bother me/’Cause the truth of your lies/Isn’t easy to hide/I see your truth/But not with my eyes.” Again, this is a clear message. What’s more, while it centers on a young female protagonist who is blind, the theme overall is still accessible in general. That is because the antagonist here is someone who tries to lie to the protagonist, thinking he is tricking her, but she sees right through the lies. Her confidence about this is clearly exhibited in the lyrics and how they are sung, as well as the mood set in the song’s arrangement. All things considered, they make the song a great start to the record and just one example of what the record has to offer.

‘Not With My Eyes’ is just one of the songs that serves to prove this record is worth hearing. Its companion, ‘Not With My Eyes II’ is another notable composition. This fully instrumental composition is notable because it is not just one song, but technically two. More specifically, it is a two movement composition. It starts off with a distinct modern classical style approach and sound. Pianist Orlando Enrique Fiol’s performance as his fingers glide across the keys is impressive to say the least. His ability to transition from that to the song’s more jazz-oriented side is just as impressive because of the fluid nature of his playing. It really requires audiences to immerse themselves in the song in order to appreciate the whole. In doing so, audiences will truly hear Fiol’s talent and the clear change in styles here from the album’s opener. That difference in sound and style between the song’s movements and the songs themselves makes for even more engagement and entertainment. It further shows the reason for audiences to hear this record and is just one more example of that reason, too. The record’s third track, ‘Dance of Freedom,’ is just as worth noting.

‘Dace of Freedom’ stands out in part because of its simplistic approach. The young children singing here immediately conjures thoughts of any chorus concert to which any parent has attended. The innocence of the performance will put a smile on any listener’s face. When the simple approach and presentation is paired with the message of unity in the song’s lyrics, the song becomes even more endearing.

The message is sung in a way that so many people need to hear. In the case here, the children ask people to see them as people, not as blind people, singing, “I feel your distant stare/I know that you are there/Please come and talk with me/Let’s try things differently.” Later in the song’s second verse, the children add, “Our differences can make us strong/Our differences have built this song.” Again, here clearly is that message of unity. Given, on the surface, it focuses on the differences between the blind and sighted. On another level though, it focuses on unity in general. To that end, the innocence of the group singing and the positive message in the lyrics makes the song all the more moving and endearing. When the whole is considered along with the others examined here and with the record’s two remaining songs, the whole makes the record in whole well worth hearing at least once.

Life Beyond Sight is a presentation that many audiences will agree is worth hearing. That is due to its musical and lyrical content alike. That is proven through the songs examined here and through the record’s other two songs. The whole makes the record a presentation that has plenty of life even potentially being a one-off work. It is available now.


First Rehearsal:

At the Studio

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TAFFY Presents offers performances and workshops in the arts to hospitals, underserved schools, shelters for abused and homeless children and their families and community groups. To inquire about the programs and artists, please contact Irene Light at, and visit 

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