Moving tale of Chicago violinist in fight for her sight

Alison Dalton, a first violin in the Chicago Symphoy Orchestra since 1987, found the notes blurring before her eyes while on tour in Hong Kong two years ago. Fifty doctors failed to put things right. Cristina Muti, the maestro’s wife, told her: ‘You just have to keep trying for all of us, because for the grace of God, it could have been anybody.’

So Alison did. And now she’s back. Here’s how.

alison dalton

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  • I hope they standardize on this — it might be the solution that lots of musicians with low vision are looking for. Apparently, there are a lot of cobbed together solutions but nothing really good.

  • Dalton says her system is unique, but I developed a very similar system over 10 years ago for my wife who has severe macular degeneration. Exactly like Dalton, I expanded the music about 400% and crop it to about 4 measures per page. My wife, Abbie, can turn the pages with a foot pedal mouse, but since most of my music for her uses electronic accompaniments, we have an even better method. I put the accompaniment into hard disk recording software and embed a MIDI track that is sent via a wireless MIDI cable to her monitor/music stand. A small freeware program then converts the MIDI signals into page turn commands that happen at just the right moment.

    Foot pedals can be problem because when there are only four measures or so per page, one must constantly work the pedal. This can be a burden for the musician, and also distract colleagues or the public in some circumstances. Unfortunately, a foot pedal is necessary in normal acoustic music where a MIDI track cannot be imbedded in an electronic accompaniment.

    As an option, at least in solo concerts, a page turner could use a wireless signal to turn pages for Ms. Dalton. The page turner would not even need to be on the stage.

    Ms. Dalton is fortunate to have an orchestra willing to support her in these tribulations. On the other hand, I have less sympathy for Muti. In 1979 my wife won an audition for the Maggio Musicale (Florence’s symphony orchestra) but he refused to hire her with the declaration that there were already too many women in the orchestra. Maybe he’s learned something since then, but I’m not holding my breath for any apology from the grand Maestro.

    • “A small freeware program then converts the MIDI signals into page turn commands that happen at just the right moment.”

      THANK YOU. This was always a question I had about these systems. Seriously, if you can input a MIDI performance into the computer, I see no reason why it can’t do a diff between that and the ambient sound and just turn the pages automatically at the right time.

      Sorry to hear about your wife’s eyesight problems. She’s a real hero to me.

      • Last I saw her, Alison was a lifelong Mormon who met the only husband I knew about during her LDS missionary year(s). She’s an absolutely lovely woman and colleague. So the multiple fiancé story seems off, though I’m out of date. But her character is beyond reproach. She’s a kind, generous and ethical person.

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