Our new content series, “Real People, Real Stories,” shares personal vignettes from individuals on why digital accessibility is so much more than a “nice to have” for them.
Mac Potts, Professional Pianist.
Professional pianist Mac Potts loves music and started messing around on the piano at 18 months old. He’s interested in many genres of music, from the blues to rock n’ roll to jazz to pop. Additionally, he also happens to be blind, and has been featured in The Cut’s “Blind People Describe” YouTube series. Here is his story:
Can you describe the work you do both as a pianist and as a guest on The Cut’s “Blind People Describe”?
Outside of classical/orchestral work, I could play piano for or with just about anyone or anything. In the past 10 years or so, the majority of my gigs have consisted of all-ages restaurants/wineries, weddings, other parties, and charity events. I used to play with bands, but I haven’t for a while. Most of my work is solo.
In my brain, I have a wide variety of music of all genres and time periods, so I literally have something to please almost everyone. Although I’ve studied piano the longest, I think most of my entertainment these days is centered around vocals. I also play the saxophone, and should there be a need for it, I can play drums and harmonica. I also enjoy fussing around on the ukulele and a couple other things.
Regarding “Blind People Describe,” that was just a situation where someone found me on the Internet (as many people do), but they wanted me to participate simply as a blind person, rather than as a musician. This was different, but I decided to give it a go. The first interview was the colors, and then from there, I did a couple other things. That was totally a side hustle, just for fun.
What started your interest in music?
I don’t remember ever not having any interest in music. Apparently I started goofing off on the piano at such a young age I can’t even really remember. My dad used to play for fun (and he still does here and there), but he started teaching me some things and I picked it up just like that. Then eventually I had professional private lessons.
You often perform jazz music; what draws you to this genre?
Funny, wondering how you came to the conclusion that I’m drawn to jazz music! To be fair, I’d probably say I’m more drawn to blues and funk; these days, I also listen to a lot of pop. However, most of the pop music I like has an influence of blues or funk.
As a kid, rock ‘n’ roll got me started in my professional career. It is true that I did go through a phase where I played a lot of jazz, but it was kind of a season of my life. It’s just how things worked out to happen.
I like jazz standards, and I am mostly a fan of groovy funky jazz. I don’t really like the out-there stuff. Currently, I play lots of American songbook standards, but as far as the jazzy jazz, I really only pull that out by request or if I’m jamming with other musicians. I try to play what will make people the happiest and bring in the tips!
Do you feel there’s any relationship between being blind and your career in music or do you see them as totally separate aspects of your life?
If I’m being honest, I just don’t really focus on the identity of me being blind. When I market myself as a musician, maybe it’s in my autobiography if they need that for promotion, but other than that, it sometimes just doesn’t even come up that I’m blind until I arrive at the place, and then they freak out because they didn’t even know. I was born blind, it’s all I’ve ever known, and it doesn’t usually do me any good to dwell on what I don’t have, because honestly, I haven’t ever known any different. I can’t fix it, so it’s just not usually relevant.
Since being in “Kids Describe Color to a Blind Person,” do you find yourself thinking about color more and if so, what are your thoughts?
Funny, no, I don’t think about color anymore than I used to, because here again, I understand the science of colors, but color literally is irrelevant in my day-to-day life. Sometimes it helps to know what color certain jackets might be just in case I lose one at a place and I can actually tell someone what color it is, but beyond that, it’s a rather moot point.
I guess when I’m picking out clothes, I’ve learned the concept of making sure I don’t wear gray jeans and a gray shirt. Beyond that, I’ll still have my wife or someone tell me what color something is, but it’s just more for the purpose of knowing. It doesn’t mean anything beyond that. All the kids did was make me laugh and forever remain in my mind when I’m eating blueberries or putting on my blue jeans.
In the “Blind People Describe” videos, you mention using a cane. How does that impact how you experience the world?
Yes, I probably did mention using a cane in one of the videos, but if I’m being honest, I don’t travel alone very often. I’m usually holding on to an elbow or my wife’s hand. Sometimes I have my cane with me if I know I’m going to be walking on rugged terrain or through an airport where I want people to actually see that I’m blind because there are some special perks occasionally, but beyond that, I don’t travel with a cane much.
How does accessibility (or the lack of it), both online and in the physical world, impact your daily life?
This is a good question. I will admit, I’m kind of lazy. There are lots of gadgets and pieces of new technology that I could get if I wanted to, but usually I’m just so used to having a human read things to me or help me fill out forms and what not. I’m doing this email all by myself with my iPhone. I think my smartphone has probably been the most useful tool in the modern world. Except for embedded text in photos, I can read just about any website much better than my days of using computers. However, even photos these days are often readable with my phone in the last couple years of updates.
I think I get frustrated with certain appliances that don’t have tactile markers that would have been extremely easy to install in the factory, not just for blind people, but for those who can barely see without their glasses or have low vision.
Also, I am old-fashioned in the world of pill bottle readers and gizmos like that. I would just have my wife use a Braille labeling device to mark my vitamins for me. The good thing is, I don’t take medications, so I don’t have that much stuff to mark.
Many bottles are different enough so I can just memorize which bottle is which and take the proper dosage. And even then, the things I’m taking are natural substances, and most of them wouldn’t be detrimental if I accidentally messed up once.
My nose is another useful tool. I mean, many spices and baking goods are easily identifiable with nothing more than the good old trusty nose!
In the video “Blind People Tell Us If They Wish They Could See,” you describe a strange experience you had during an eclipse. Can you describe that experience? Now that time has passed, have you gained any new insight in that experience? If so, what was it?
Oof, this question is a doozy. I actually have a hard time describing it to people in the form of presentations when people are intently listening to me. It was so trippy that if I think about it too much, I start reliving it, and I get all twitchy and faint and have almost passed out a couple times if I overthink it, but I’m totally fine explaining it in an email, or at a bar after I’ve had a drink and I have a bit more liquid courage and my brain doesn’t just spiral out of control.
Anyway, the last solar eclipse was late August 2017. My wife and I had barely slept because we had driven back from Central Washington all the way down to Vancouver, Washington, where we lived at the time. We didn’t get home until about a little after 5:00 in the morning. The reason for doing this overnight drive was so we wouldn’t miss the prime spot for the eclipse and could simultaneously avoid massive traffic if we left afterwards.
I just planned on lying in bed and listening to the birds getting all trippy. They were certainly singing some interesting songs because of how freaked out they were.
Finally though, my wife convinced me to go outside and feel how weird the sun felt. However, she didn’t really think I needed to wear the glasses. She should’ve known that although I’m totally blind, my eyes actually still get irritated from the sun, so when I stepped outside, I literally took in the full force of the event. Here again, I can’t see, but especially because my left eye doesn’t have a retina, the light went straight to my brain.
At the time though, I didn’t really know what was happening to me. I just knew I needed to get inside right away. I stumbled into the house and walked upstairs like I was drunk and collapsed on the bed. I didn’t faint, but I almost did. At some point, I put my hand up to my face because I had a headache, and there was this moment where I almost thought I could see my hand in front of my face. For some crazy reason, I was more extra aware of this presence than usual. I can sense a hand in front of my face, but it’s not seeing it. However, this was an extra awareness of that presence, multiplied by 10 at least.
I am a man of faith, so I took this to be a sign that I was being told something. I wasn’t sure what that thing was at the time, but now I stand by the idea that it was God telling me that my wife was pregnant. Fast forward a couple months, turns out she was pregnant, but the baby didn’t make it.
Shortly after that, I had another string of crazy life events, but this time, I was ready. I basically told her that she was pregnant again, and I was right.
There were other things that were happening in my life at the time of the eclipse, so really, that whole event was honestly the beginning of me waking up and beginning to live a better, more mature life.
Do you have anything you want to share (observations, anecdotes, etc.) that hasn’t been covered in any of the previous questions?
I’ve mentioned my wife several times, so yes, I’m happily married, and we have two beautiful little girls. We are expecting another baby in December.
We live in the city of Chelan, which is located east of the mountains, but is still considered central Washington.
In addition to being a musician, I’m also a certified piano tuner.
Some of my hobbies include exercising, lying out in the sunshine, eating at super fancy restaurants, watching football (that’s American football just to clarify), and more.
I have two albums that are available on Spotify and other popular streaming services. One of them is full of covers of songs by Ed Sheeran, and the other one is a Christmas albumwith a selection of many different styles and nods to several artists.
You can find me on the Internet at: www.macpotts.com
If you wish to give a donation to my crazy circus of a family just because, my Venmo is: @macpottsmusic
Four digit code if necessary: 1814