9th March 2018
Country church’s investment in blind pianist pays off
The telephone conversation must have sounded odd to anyone who happened to be listening on one end.
“I’m blind, I can’t see,” Wenhui “Sherry” Dou said.
“I’m wearing hearing aids, and I can’t hear,” Don Heller replied.
The phone call was a job interview of sorts, with Dou (pronounced “Do”), telling Heller that she would like to be the pianist at his church, Bethel Lutheran in Jones County. But he needed to understand that she was a blind pianist.
Heller didn’t care and was upbeat about the possibility of Dou becoming the organist of the historic church in Ericksdahl, close to 40 miles north of Abilene.
“Let’s just see what God can do,” he said.
That was almost two years ago and the relationship has worked beautifully.
Heller and other members of Bethel Lutheran are just hoping it doesn’t end this fall. Dou and her mother, Ping Lu, came to the United States from their native China so Dou could get a master’s degree at TCU.
But after a year there, through connections she made at a Fort Worth church, Dou decided to enroll at Hardin-Simmons University. She earned a master’s degree in piano performance in May 2014, two years after enrolling.
Now, Dou, 30, has the opportunity for a performance certification at the University of Kansas beginning in the fall and may leave, at least for the year it would take to complete.
Heller and other members of the church are hoping Dou turns down that offer, but they would understand if she chooses to leave. It’s a tough decision for Dou, who has found a home in Abilene and with members of the church.
“It’s really a blessing for us,” Dou said. “The people are really nice.”
Long before coming to the United States, Dou received acclaim in China and in venues in several countries. She has performed in Bethlehem, Singapore, Beijing, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hong Kong.
Learning by listening
How she learns to play as amazing as her flawless performance. Dou has been totally blind since age 2 when an operation to correct glaucoma failed.
When Dou was 3, an uncle bought her a toy piano, which opened an entire new world to her. Instead of banging on it, like most 3-year-olds, Sherry began tapping out tunes she heard. Her mother immediately took note and after a few years offered to pay for music lessons — on the condition that Sherry never give up.
“I gave a nod of assent,” Dou said in an interview for a previous Reporter-News story.
Her parents couldn’t afford a real piano but bought an electronic keyboard that Dou mastered. Her mother, who is not a musician, teaches her music by “reading” a musical score to her, one note at a time, adding the key and time written for the music. Without hearing a recording of the piece, Dou and her mother are able to translate the musical score into a virtuoso performance.