Chicago Symphony Violinist Overcomes Vision Problem

Alison's recital

Alison Dalton at her solo recital this summer, accompanied by Eugenia Cheng, a math lecturer at the Univ. of Chicago. Photo Credit: Hannah Edgar/The Chicago Maroon

I saw an article on a colleague’s Facebook page last night and had to share it. A story in the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper of the University of Chicago, describes the long ordeal of violinist Alison Dalton, whose vision suddenly deteriorated while on tour with the CSO in Hong Kong. She was later described as having Bull’s Eye Maculopathy, a condition of discolored rings of damaged tissue that appear on the retina, which often causes “gaps” in a person’s vision. Ms. Dalton’s gap was in the center of her vision.

She took a medical leave from the CSO in 2013 and investigated the cause of her vision loss, to no avail. She also started experimenting with ways in which she could read orchestral music.

She began exploring computerized music stands, which are capable of magnifying digitized sheet music up to many times its original size.

Through trial and error, Dalton determined how her musical display would need to present the music in order to work effectively. First of all, it would need a large-display touchscreen with an editing software, so she could mark up the music during rehearsal. And as an orchestral musician, Dalton also wanted the screen itself to be discreet enough that she could play without attracting undue attention to herself. Lastly, said touchscreen would need to be able to reproduce sheet music exactly as it appeared on the page—which is where Dalton ran into trouble.

“We used digitized music for a while . . . but my eyes weren’t recognizing the music… The caveat? Every existing technology used digitized music, which, to Dalton’s eye, looked completely foreign.

Ultimately, with the help of Joy Bergelson of the University of Chicago’s Department of Ecology and Evolution, Ms. Dalton did find a unique technological solution that permitted her to return to her position as a violinist with the Chicago Symphony in June, 2014.

It’s a wonderful story of perseverance, ingenuity, and a violinist driven by her love of music.

About the author

Ann Drinan
Ann Drinan

Ann Drinan, Senior Editor, has been a member of the Hartford Symphony viola section for over 30 years. She is a former Chair of the Orchestra Committee, former member of the HSO Board, and has served on many HSO committees. She is also the Executive Director of CONCORA (CT Choral Artists), a professional chorus based in Hartford and New Britain, founded by Artistic Director Richard Coffey. Ann was a member of the Advisory Board of the Symphony Orchestra Institute (SOI), and was the HSO ROPA delegate for 14 years, serving as both Vice President and President of ROPA. In addition to playing the viola and running CONCORA, Ann is a professional writer and editor, and has worked as a consultant and technical writer for software companies in a wide variety of industries for over 3 decades. (She worked for the Yale Computer Science Department in the late 70s, and thus has been on the Internet, then called the DARPAnet, since 1977!) She is married to Algis Kaupas, a sound recordist, and lives a block from Long Island Sound in Branford CT. Together they create websites for musicians:

Ann holds a BA in Music from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an MA in International Relations from Yale University.

Read Ann Drinan's blog here.

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