Melody Goodspeed: Hey, everybody. This is Melody Goodspeed with the American Foundation for the Blind. And I am coming to you live from my living room. I have on a black shirt with white music notes all over it with a black jacket. And I have auburn-colored hair and hazel eyes. I'm so excited to be here with you this evening. We are celebrating the Art of Inclusion in our centennial year. And I have a majorly fantastic musical guest with us, Matthew Whitaker, today and he's going to talk to us about so many wonderful things. All things art, all things music, and all things that we are celebrating in inclusion in our centennial year. Matthew, thank you so much for hanging out with us today.
Matthew Whitaker: Thank you so much for having me. It's truly an honor. I'll just describe real quickly what's going on. So basically, I'm in my basement right now. I'm in Hackensack, New Jersey. So I'm in my basement and basically I have all my keyboards around me and my organ is to my left. Currently, there is a keyboard in front of me, stacked on top of each other there's two keyboards. And then there's one diagonally to my right. And then there's two more stacked to my right on the side here. And then beyond that, there's a few more keyboards and... Far off to my right is where the percussion section is, so different percussion instruments. And then far to my left is where the drums are. So drum set and cymbals and all that. And basically everything is mic'd. Some stuff is plugged into the interfaces and all that. And my MIDI controller is also behind me as well. So if I need to do some MIDI work in Logic, I can do that as well, besides audio.
Melody Goodspeed: This is so fun. And your performance on March the fourth was so great. I mean, you just really, our gala was so great and I'm just so excited for you to be here and being part of our centennial.
Matthew Whitaker: Thank you so much. Happy anniversary!
Melody Goodspeed: Oh thank you. [laughs] I wish I could say I've been here a hundred years, but I haven't. We're gonna celebrate. And Matthew, can you kind of just walk us through, tell us a little bit about you and how you started in music and your journey with blindness?
Matthew Whitaker: Yeah. I was born at 23 weeks premature and at 3 months old, the oxygen that was keeping me alive damaged my eyes. And the doctors gave me less than 50% chance of survival. But at 3 years old is when I got started in music. I mean, I've loved music since I was very little. But I started playing keyboards when I was 3. My grandfather gave me my first keyboard at that age. And then at 5, I started taking classical piano lessons. And I'm still working with the same teacher today.
Melody Goodspeed: That is incredible.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes.
Melody Goodspeed: So you've been with the same teacher since you were 5?
Matthew Whitaker: Yes, yes.
Melody Goodspeed: That is awesome.
Matthew Whitaker: Thank you.
Melody Goodspeed: Let's talk about music that lights you up. I can tell when you're playing, it really speaks to your soul.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes, yes, definitely. I mean music can make you feel many ways, I feel. And I feel that music can heal as well.
Melody Goodspeed: Will, can you tell us a little bit more about healing?
Matthew Whitaker: Yeah, especially going through these times that we're going through with the pandemic and all that. I feel like music just helps us relax and calm down and just be positive to one another, which I feel all of us have to do.
Melody Goodspeed: No, I agree because I mean, this is definitely a time of healing. This has been such a really difficult time for all of us. But going back to your passion for music and it really feeding your soul, there are so many kind of barriers that we go through being blind. And myself, being totally blind. But there I find, I know you do, too. Give us…when you think about a barrier, what does that look like to you and how do you overcome that? I kind of see it as an opportunity to be able to show the world how as we kind of expressed ourselves.
Matthew Whitaker: Yeah, yeah. I totally agree with that. I always tell people I don't let my disability stop me from doing music or just everyday life. How to get past this obstacle that people put in front of you.
Melody Goodspeed: Right, and you really do. What I’d really love to do right now, Matthew, is kind of can you show us? I know a lot of people are wondering how you do your music and I know you're already working on your third album, we're going to get into that in a bit.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes!
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, I can't wait to hear all about it. Can you kind of show us, because many people are like how does he do his music? Can you just walk us through a little sampling of that?
Matthew Whitaker: Of course, of course, of course, yeah.
Melody Goodspeed: I'm so excited.
Matthew Whitaker: Oh yeah, definitely. So yeah, yeah totally. So how I compose really is... what I normally do is I just pick an instrument I want to start out with, whether it's piano, drums, or keys or organ or whatever. And I just come up with an idea and if I like it, I just keep going from there and see what else happens. And it's really a whole improv thing that I do. And as far as recording everything, I usually start with the drums first. A lot of people would start with piano or some instrument, guitar, stuff like that. But I usually start with drums because I'm able to like figure out the format, like while I'm sitting at the drums just playing ideas or even while I'm recording. I just say, "Okay, we're going to go here and instruments are going to do this at this point." And then I layer bass or whatever instruments on top. There was this one song that I composed where I actually started the recording process on piano, then I switched over to drums and layered it with everything else on top. So I mean it really changes depending on how I'm feeling. And as far as recording everything and using the computer and all that, I use Logic Pro, which is made by Apple. And it's very adjustible with VoiceOver.
Melody Goodspeed: I know Matthew when we were talking and you demonstrated for me, you and your dad worked together to set a template, so you could start to layer, do all that beautiful music. Can you show us that?
Matthew Whitaker: The template and stuff?
Melody Goodspeed: Yes.
Matthew Whitaker: Perfect. Okay, yeah, yeah perfect. I'll just get VoiceOver running. I'm going to pipe it through 3, 2, 1.
Computerized Voice: Press on.
Matthew Whitaker: Okay. So by the way, for those wondering, I am using a software called Loopback, which allows me to route audio wherever I want basically. And that's how you're hearing the voice software and Logic and all that. So I’m in Logic right now, and I have a template. So basically, if I start from the beginning…
[computerized voice speaking]
Matthew Whitaker: So basically, I have all my tracks laid out and the numbers at the end of each track is just so we know what input on the interface it's going into. All the rest of the tracks are here. And these are all my drum mics.
[computerized voice lists several track numbers]
Matthew Whitaker: And so on and so forth. So I’ll skim through here. And I am using Miss Samantha Compact voice for those who were wondering. And here's some MIDI instruments for when I'm playing MIDI. So I can just do this and you should hear that. In fact, let me pull this keyboard out. So I'm controlling this piano patch. This is all coming from the computer, but I'm controlling it using the MIDI controller. Yeah. And I could show like a recording real quick. Let me try and...
Melody Goodspeed: That would be great.
Matthew Whitaker: Yeah. So hitting enter tells me like... Well, hitting enter goes to the beginning of the session. And it's just telling me like, where I'm at in the project. So usually, I turn VoiceOver off so I don't get distracted by speech and all that.
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah, of course yeah.
Matthew Whitaker: So I hit R to record, space to pause. So let's see. So I can pause and play back. So now that's playing. So yeah.
Melody Goodspeed: Matthew, that is incredible.
Matthew Whitaker: Thanks, thanks.
Melody Goodspeed: It is so incredible.
Matthew Whitaker: That's just with MIDI. But with audio, it's a whole different thing because you can add effects to different things. Real quick, I'm going to... So for this to work, I'm going to have to switch some things around. So, bear with me, I'm sorry. Okay, can you hear me okay?
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, perfectly.
Matthew Whitaker: Sweet. Okay. Now I'm on the other mic. Let me just... Okay, you ready?
Melody Goodspeed: Yes.
Matthew Whitaker: [high pitched] Hey, guys.
Matthew Whitaker: VoiceOver, what are you doing? Stop talking. Thank you. Okay there we go. So like I said before, with audio tracks it's easy to add effects like this to my voice. And I can show you the accessibility since we are we are talking about that a bit.
Matthew Whitaker: So I'm about to adjust the pitch of [higher pitch] everything. So now I'm a little high pitched. [inaudible] [deep low pitch] all the way down. [normal voice] So yeah, that's one way to adjust things.
Melody Goodspeed: I love it.
Matthew Whitaker: Oh yeah, people on FaceTime one time and that did happen. We were FaceTiming and [high pitched] you have to put this in the interview. Oh, my gosh. [normal voice] But, yeah.
Melody Goodspeed: I'm crying, laughing so hard. Matthew, that was amazing. So it is very clear that you have a passion for technology as well.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes, definitely. And I'm always learning new things about Logic and other things and how accessible everything is and how accessible things can be by reaching out to different developers. I always reach out to people and say, "Oh this is VoiceOver and this is how it works." Or whatever screen reader I'm using: Jaws, NVDA, or whatever.
Melody Goodspeed: So can you kind of talk us through how you use advocacy through music, through technology, and where you want to see it going?
Matthew Whitaker: Reaching out to companies and developers and explaining who we are and how we operate. I feel like that's an important thing that we should be doing.
Melody Goodspeed: So Matthew, so your technology which you have a passion for and advocacy…and one of the things I know that you do is do a lot of testing for Apple. Can you talk to us about that?
Matthew Whitaker: Last summer I was reached out by Apple and they asked me if I wanted to become an accessibility tester for their products and software. And I was super excited, and they sent me a bunch of their products for me to test out. So I've been testing out the Apple Watch, the Air Pods, the Mac, and iPads and all that. So yeah, it's pretty cool. My dad first came up to me and was like, "Hey, I got you something." And I'm like, "What is it?" Because I was young at the time. He gave me the iPod Touch third generation and still to this day, it still works. It still has all my settings, all my VoiceOver stuff, all my music and all that.
Melody Goodspeed: And then when you told the people at Apple that it still works, they were excited.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes, yes, they were super happy.
Melody Goodspeed: That's awesome. I mean advocacy, you're doing so much, you're doing that testing and being able to provide this feedback. Can you kind of walk us through like other areas that you use technology in your life, not just in music?
Matthew Whitaker: We use different devices differently than sighted people but we achieve the same goal. So whether it's checking emails or doing work for Julliard, which is the college that I'm going to, I'm in my second year now. Or just chatting with people.
Melody Goodspeed: With college, what are some of the barriers that you run into and how do you get around those?
Matthew Whitaker: The accessibility of different materials. Whether it's PDFs… because you know how PDFs are for us.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes.
Matthew Whitaker: And Word documents. And even just getting the right MP3s sometimes because for some material I need... For example, I was in the Julliard Orchestra. And in order for me to know what my part is, I need cues, like verbal cues that basically describe what's happening musically. Rest here, play here, play piano solo. Letter A coming up…because as sighted people, they can see all that. So it's basically audio description but musically, and that's what I needed. So it was tricky trying to get them to understand that. So when they finally did that, it was amazing, it helped out so much.
Melody Goodspeed: So you brought up a really good point here, Matthew. When it comes to advocating for yourself, if you could give somebody a tip, trick, what would that be? Just advocating for themselves, whether it's in their job or at school, or even at home sometimes.
Matthew Whitaker: I mean I would say for the whole school thing, don't be afraid to reach out to counseling or disability services if possible. Or just reach out to your teacher directly. Just tell them, "Hey, I need this in order to do what you want me to do. I need that in order for me to do what you want me to do." Just be specific and tell them what you use and how you use it. Because I feel like that's interesting for them. So the teacher or whoever it is knows how to teach you. Because that's the other thing: a lot of people don't know or is not sure how to teach a blind person this or that.
Melody Goodspeed: Right. Once you kind of collaborate, you kind of find there's innovation that kind of blossoms naturally and organically.
Matthew Whitaker: Exactly. And then once you do it with other people, then when other people with disabilities come to the college or wherever, those staff will already know how to work with them because they have already worked with you.
Melody Goodspeed: Right. It's the art of inclusion.
Matthew Whitaker: There it is, there it is! That's what it is.
Melody Goodspeed: I'm giving you a virtual high five, my friend.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes.
Melody Goodspeed: So let's talk about…speaking of the art of music. Let's talk about your upcoming third album that you're working on. Can you tell us about it?
Matthew Whitaker: Yes. Super excited, super excited for my third record. And I'm working with a producer named Derrick Hodge. He is amazing. I can't wait to go into studio. We're going to be doing next week. We're going to be recording all next week and mixing the next week after and mastering after that. So basically there's so far, we don't have a theme yet, but it's a lot of styles of music showcasing what I can do musically. This next song we're going to do for you is an original song that I wrote. And this song has a lot of time signatures going on, and this song is called "Emotions." Melody Goodspeed: That is so exciting. So Matthew, what kind of music is your favorite? Who are your champions and what do you draw inspiration from?
Matthew Whitaker: I love jazz. That's my favorite genre to play and listen to. In fact, I'll just say this. When I was seven, my dad first introduced me to the genre. He was playing jazz for me when were in Detroit driving and he played jazz on the radio for the first time. And ever since then, it's been my favorite genre because it allows me to be free musically. Because you're not really tethered to, you have to play it like this, you have to play like that. Just [inaudible] that music is laid out. You're able to do your thing and solo throughout the song and just be free musically.
Melody Goodspeed: Nice. Now, when you're talking about, do you ever mix different genres?
Matthew Whitaker: Yes, yes, yes, definitely. I love doing that. This improvising over other styles. So I would say like.
Matthew Whitaker: This is impromptu over that.
Melody Goodspeed: Oh I love it. I mean, I wish I could improv like that.
Matthew Whitaker: Practice. Practice and having fun.
Melody Goodspeed: I love it. Practice and having fun, we should all be having that. That should be our new hashtag for this year. [laughs]
Matthew Whitaker: Yes, hashtag, let's go.
Melody Goodspeed: Matthew, we're talking a lot in our centennial, at the American Foundation for the Blind about where we were, where we are, and where we're going. And that is just such a, for me personally and professionally, has just been a… And even in today's world has been such a huge kind of thing for me. Like where have I been? Where am I now? And where do I want to go?
Matthew Whitaker: Yeah, I agree with you. I like looking back on how I started and where I am now, and in the future, I want to get into more producing and maybe film composing and also more music directing in a different way.
Melody Goodspeed: Well, that was going to be my question. I wanted to know where you see yourself in the future going personally. And where would you like to see the world as it pertains to diversity and inclusion? What would be the perfect world when you think of yourself of a wonderful world, what would it look like?
Matthew Whitaker: Like I said earlier, being positive to one another and just making sure everyone is included no matter what disability he or she may have. Being creative and just having fun and enjoying life.
Melody Goodspeed: Well, professionally as an artist, where do you see yourself going? Where would you like to do?
Matthew Whitaker: Like I said, I would like to get into more producing and film composing and music directing as well.
Melody Goodspeed: That sounds fun.
Matthew Whitaker: Thanks.
Melody Goodspeed: When you are working on your third album here, do you get a chance to do that?
Matthew Whitaker: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I always have a chance to say my ideas and... yeah. Me and Derrick just go back and forth with different ideas and I can't wait for next week because when we go into the studio, it'll be fun just to brainstorm some more and then record everything.
Melody Goodspeed: That is awesome. I am sitting here thinking about my own personal journeys and during our personal journeys, we all have people that we kind of look up to and people that are our champions along the way. Who are your champions and the people that you really look up to?
Matthew Whitaker: There's a lot of people, especially musically. People like Dr. Lonnie Smith, he is an amazing jazz organist. Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, there's a lot of people. Roy Haynes, Art Blakely, a lot of people.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes. [laughs]
Matthew Whitaker: There's more but I will stop there, because there is a lot of people.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, we're getting you prepared for your awards speeches. So, Matthew. I just want to thank you so much for being here with us today. This has meant a world. You're just going to open up a world of showing what is possible.
Matthew Whitaker: Thank you so much for having me. This has been truly an honor.
Melody Goodspeed: It has been such an honor for me, like your passion just seeps right through. And every time we talk, I just smile bigger and bigger because you are just a light of just complete and total fun. And your passion for your music comes through and it's so beautiful and it is really just a beautiful thing for healing our souls. And I thank you so much for being here with us.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, thank you so much.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes!
Melody Goodspeed: If you guys want to catch Matthew Whitaker, you can always visit our website at AFB.org, and you can also go to AFB.org/100 to see what we're going to be coming up with in the art of inclusion throughout the year. And we thank you so much for everything. Take care.