Daydreaming some time ago while listening to a drum machine, Jeffrey Baker’s thoughts drifted back to something he’d read in Dance Magazine years earlier. It was an article about the Joffrey Ballet and the teaching of ballet technique to deaf children, using large speakers, high amplification and a pounding piano. Baker’s mind went to another place, though. And if you were to describe the flash in his brain as a light bulb turning on above his head, you wouldn’t be far off.
Baker’s bright idea was a visual representation of audio time signatures, using a rhythmical sequence of lights to communicate music to the deaf and hard of hearing. Many years and $65,000 later, Baker has secured the North American patent to what he calls the Baker Light Integrated Star System – BLISS, for short.
“When you see their faces, that’s the price of admission,” Baker says of the deaf children he teaches, using his system of flashing lights. “When they smile, it’s all worth it.”
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Baker is speaking at the office and small studio space at the Deaf Culture Centre, located in Toronto’s Distillery Historic District. There, children are working through a series of dance exercises as they watch Baker and his traffic-light device behind him. They skip, they pas, they plié. And as they do, Baker seems to be the happiest person in the room.
“I’m a child,” Baker says, after the dance demonstration. “I never grew up. I love to teach, and the kids relate to me.”
Baker says he’s never worked a day in his life. He’s danced with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the Israel Ballet and other companies, and he currently teaches ballet at the Ernest C. Drury School for the Deaf, in Milton, Ont.
Some of the children Baker is currently working with will be a part of The Black Drum, a signed musical-theatre piece co-produced by the Deaf Culture Centre with Soulpepper Theatre that is scheduled to be performed at Soulpepper next year.
One of the supporters of Baker’s BLISS is Joanne Cripps, the Deaf Culture Centre executive director. “People think deaf children couldn’t possibly understand what music is about,” Cripps says, through a sign-language interpreter. “But that’s not true. They have a visual music inside them.”
What excites Cripps is that with his lighting system, Baker isn’t trying to make deaf children hear. “The children own the process,” she says of visual methods such as Baker’s. “It becomes theirs.”
Baker is all too willing to share the process. “I’m living my dream,” he says. “Teaching these children goes to my heart. There’s really nothing better.”
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