This perspective is a little different than what we usually publish. One of our talented speakers, Aaron Seglin, has an amazing story to tell, but spoken word and music, more than the written word, are his chosen media. In order to share his story with you, he set down with one of our Fellows, Ben Rosloff, to talk about his life and his passion. Ben, along with Samantha Haas, another Jewish inclusion Fellow, wrote this article to share his perspective. Enjoy!
Aaron Seglin is a blind Jewish musician, Growing up in West Orange, New Jersey, his story is not only one of overcoming stigma and barriers, but of a tremendous level of musical accomplishment, talent and skill.
Growing up, Seglin had parents who supported his interest of music. His father was an instrumentalist who had a big part in his talent. He provided instruments for Seglin to try out. However, he passed away when Seglin was young. Seglin’s mother taught fine art which helped expose Seglin to those art skills. Once his father passed away, his grandmother and brother played music with Seglin. His mother was amazed when she noticed that her son could harmonize while playing the piano at the same time. He also could take what he heard on the radio and play it on his own without knowing the notes. Seglin became familiar with three or four families of instruments but felt so passionate about the harmonica that he now teaches it to young people.
Things were not as smooth with his entry into Hebrew school in the first grade. One challenge he encountered was the lack of Braille in prayer books. Because he was used to memorization, that became his secret to learn the many things that he heard. One of the things he liked most about Hebrew school was learning the Hebrew alphabet. Socially, things were more mixed. Seglin liked to work with other children that he knew, but was bullied by other kids for being blind. Ultimately, when he was given raised letters in Hebrew, some of the other students were also interested, which created better social opportunities.
Once Braille prayer books were available, Aaron found the Braille prayer books difficult to use, especially when reading along with everybody, but memorizing the prayers was easy for him. He ultimately realized something very important: that he was there to learn to pray in a way that worked for him. Since memorization worked well for him, he focused on that so that he could truly participate.
On the musical side, Seglin continued to evolve and attended Ramapo College to major in music. He had always dreamed of learning musical theory. While in college, he discovered that the key to his success was finding a teacher that would support this by helping him practice and allowing him to combine playing instruments with theory. This allowed him to progress when performing with his guitar. It helps that Seglin has perfect pitch and can recognize any note that he hears wherever he is, which is critical to how he experiences the world. An example of this is when he is in a park and hears the “A” key from the talking crosswalk signs. This helps him tune his guitar.
Now a songwriter, performer and teacher, Seglin has not had many opportunities to play at Jewish events because of time conflicts, but he does feel that his lyrics have been influenced by Judaism. This is especially because he feels that he has a connection to Jewish writers. He is particularly intrigued by the idea of bringing more percussion into Jewish music because the beats tend to encourage people to move their bodies.
Like so many with disabilities, Seglin has a unique gift to share with the world, in this case the ability sing and play beautifully. Sighted musicians tend to train by closing their eyes, so they do not watch their hands as they play. Seglin learned to move his hands correctly from the start which helped him focus more closely on his music.
All of this has contributed to his love of teaching. By sharing and explaining the strategies that he used to help overcome the obstacles society created for him as a blind person, he helps his students figure out how to overcome their own obstacles to playing music. When a student tells him that something is too hard, he tells them that he knows what they’re going through and he totally appreciates the difficulty, and remind them that it is their dedication and skill that makes them so talented. Otherwise, anyone could do it.
Then, he looks at what is actually hard, to make sure that there is not an obstacle that he could help them figure out a way to overcome and be a better musician. In this way, Aaron Seglin brings the world not only the beauty of his music, but of his insight and his experience. He is a true example of a Jewish leader.