Blind Missouri man learns part of baritone with keen ear

Friday, August 28, 2009 | 1:32 p.m. CDT; updated 2:27 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 28, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Ken Strong is one of the newest members of the Show-Me Showboaters.

Strong is a perfect fit for the group, when you consider his keen ear for notes and his ability to add the subtle note changes and provide that harmonic sound barbershop groups are known for.

He does not take sheet music home to study; instead, he grabs CDs to learn the music.

Strong is blind and has been since birth.

His love for music goes back to his childhood.

"I sing all of the time," he said. "I guess I have been blessed by God to have the ability to do so."

He sang in the chorus in high school and recalls his days at the University of Oklahoma listening, for hours, as the school's marching band, The Pride of Oklahoma, practiced.

Strong moved to Jefferson City from Vandalia about a year ago. He has been attending Capital West Christian Church since then.

"I knew the Show-Me Showboaters practiced at my church and thought, 'I could do that. Maybe I should join them,'" he said. "I thought I would show up and see what it's all about."

Last November he joined the group and has been excited at how easily the part of baritone has come to him.

"I practice quite a bit," he said. "I have always loved music and harmony, but I also like to make sure I am ready to give the group all I have in practice."

Having settled into his new role, Strong is happy as a baritone.

"I really love being a barie, because it is the part that most people don't hear or miss if they are not careful. I like the uniqueness of it as well," he said.

Learning barbershop quartet music can be challenging, even for the sighted. "It is interesting for me, I learn the part first, before I learn the words," he said. He listens to CDs that play his part in one ear and the remaining parts in the other.

"I find myself singing as I am doing things around the apartment," he said. "It is always so great when I realize I am singing something we went over in practice. It is such a great feeling to realize you have learned a new piece of music."

Sitting in his centrally located Jefferson City apartment, decorated with Sooner's memorabilia, bookshelves that have items just where they can be found by Strong, he says being blind is just a nuisance for him.

"For the most part being blind is just inconvenient," he said. " You are who you are and you have to deal with what God has given you."

Strong is quick to point out he lives independently, arranges transportation to appointments, e-mails, is an avid reader, and loves a good college football or basketball game.

"For the most part being blind is just inconvenient," he said. "You are who you are and you have to deal with what God has given you."

Strong's relationship with God is what is most important to him and what he credits for giving him such a caring and compassionate nature.

"I really value my friends, what they do for me and really treasure their time and caring," he said.

When asked what he would want people to know about him, Strong said it was his level of love and dedication for his friends.

"A friendship is something you cherish and hold close to your heart," he said. "You work together in friendships, you are there for each other. There is nothing better than a friend."

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