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Visually Impaired Pianist Thrives With Support From Mason Gross

Visually Impaired Pianist Thrives With Support From Mason Gross

Photo by Nick Romanenko

Yerko Difonis, 28, is not the first musical prodigy born blind and partially deaf.

However, he is the first student with those disabilities to pursue a master of music degree in piano performance at Mason Gross School of the Arts (MGSA).

“God took away two of the main senses you need for music but gave him this incredible talent,” said his piano professor, Karina Bruk. “He is a virtuoso.”

Before the Chilean immigrant could enroll in Rutgers–New Brunswick this past fall, the university’s Office of Access and Disability Resources was asked to find a timely and economical way to transcribe his complex musical scores into braille – during a pandemic.

“You look at all that sheet music and it’s well beyond what most people do. It was like a foreign language to us when we first started,” said Jason Khurdan, manager of central services for the office.

Now, with the help of graduate composition student Anthony Petruccello, Rutgers’ disability resources office has fine-tuned a cost-effective and comparatively fast process for transcribing music scores to braille, making Rutgers one of the few universities in the country to offer this service to visually impaired music students.