By Lucy Juneau
Carleton University student Brittany Clayton won two gold medals from the Royal Conservatory of Music for achieving the highest flute marks in Ontario for the six and seven levels of flute studies.
Clayton, now at level eight out of 10, is considered an advanced flutist.
The coin-like medals represent more than a grand achievement. They symbolize a lifelong journey driven by passion, determination and an incredibly good ear.
Clayton is completely blind.
“In things like music, people who are blind are on equal playing field with those who are sighted,” said Clayton.
She considers learning by ear as an advantage, and picked some of the hardest repertoires based on sound, not the written notes.
“A lot of people are scared by just looking at a sheet of music. It deters people. Those are my best pieces,” said Clayton.
Since infancy, Clayton listened to music. Both her parents are musicians, so growing up her home was filled with song.
She started playing the flute in middle school in 2003, but was discouraged after Canterbury – an Ottawa arts high school – rejected her. Clayton put her flute away, thinking she would never play again. A decade later, she became friends with a flute teacher and everything changed.
“That was the moment when I truly started to play the flute with some incredible sound,” she said.
The flute drew Clayton. A gut feeling inspired her to play the light, soft instrument. She felt it suited her.
“Well, I couldn’t picture myself playing the tuba or a saxophone. They’re just too heavy and awkward.’’
Clayton also sings and plays piano and clarinet. She completed the full 10 levels in piano at the Royal Conservatory, finishing with first-class honours with distinction, the highest level next to the gold medal.
For the past six years, she attended Carleton’s Jazz Camps for piano, which she loves. This is how she discovered her second home. Now, Clayton is in Carleton’s Bachelor of Music program, focused in jazz piano.
“Carleton made me feel so welcome,” said Clayton, who hopes to teach music and become a grief counsellor. Potential music professionals are encouraged to have two careers.
But for her, holding two occupations isn’t just about success, it’s about beating the odds. Seventy per cent of people who are blind are unemployed.
“I don’t stand for that. My goal is to have two jobs. I believe I’m the type of person that doesn’t let my disability stand in the way.’’
Clayton is determined to battle stigmas about disabilities.
“It’s better to put the person before the disability. We are people who are blind. I’m not blind. I’m a person who is blind.”