Michael Abelson featured in Journal News

Published: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 7:00 am By: Heather Salerno Source: Journal News

Ten things you didn't know about tenor Michael Abelson of Yonkers, who was born legally blind

Mike Abelson
Michael Abelson of Yonkers, who is legally blind, sings
"Torne a Sorrento" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
for the 15th Annual Lighthouse at the Met Concert in April.
photo by: Dorothea Lombardo

Michael Abelson's relationship with the music school at Lighthouse International, a nonprofit devoted to fighting vision loss, goes back about 64 years. Born legally blind, the longtime Yonkers resident started taking piano lessons there when he was 6 years old before moving on to singing.

Now 70, Abelson is proof that you should never stop trying to learn: He still takes weekly voice lessons at the school.

"I'm still studying," he says. "I never stopped."

Indeed, music has always played an important role in Abelson's life. Before retiring in 2008, he spent 40 years as a music and recreation specialist at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, where music therapy and leisure activities are part of veterans' recovery and health care. He occasionally performs with local choirs, too, including the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and the New York Choral Society.

And, of course, he's been a vibrant part of the Lighthouse's music school for years. Most recently, he performed the Italian song, "Torne a Sorrento," at the group's 15th annual Lighthouse at the Met Concert. Abelson was among 40 visually impaired musicians who sang in front of a digital display of artwork from the museum's collection; the concert gives people with vision loss an opportunity to experience visual art by combining verbal descriptions of the works with music.

That slot wasn't just handed to Abelson, though. He's performed at the event before, but he still had to audition.

"They run that music school like a conservatory," he says. "And that's the way it should be."

Here are 10 things that you might not know about tenor Michael Abelson.

1.He wanted to become a doctor just like his father. "But because of my vision, that was not in the cards," he says.

2.As a young boy, he would take the train with his mother every Friday afternoon from his Far Rockaway neighborhood in Queens to Manhattan for his piano lessons. "The conductor would let me punch the tickets and call out the stops. After my lesson, we would always go to Bloomingdale's to shop."

3.He's still in touch with his high school's former music director. "She's living in North Carolina now and is 104 years old."

4.After graduating from Alfred University, he studied to be a cantor for three years at a Jewish theological seminary.

5.Even though he can't see, he's an avid photographer and a pretty good one. "I once took a picture of the Montauk Lighthouse. It's hanging in their museum."

6.So he's rarely without his camera while walking through Manhattan. "The one time I didn't have it with me, I ran into Jackie Kennedy."

7.He likes to "play in the snow," often heading to local parks for cross-country skiing with his wife of nearly 43 years, Joan.

8.He loves to walk on the beach with his wife and collect sea glass. "I can't see the sea glass, so (it's more like I) carry the sea glass," he laughs, "but it's fun."

9.He's a chocoholic. And if you ask his preference ice cream, cake or cookies his answer is: "All of it! As long as it's chocolate."

10.He's addicted to his iPad (using a piece of software designed for the visually impaired that allows users to see and hear what's on the computer screen). "I can't take my hands off of it," he admits. "But I don't play Angry Birds, thank you very much."

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