Byline: ABBIE WIGHTWICK
GETTING to the top examgrade on the piano is an achievement for any teenager, but for Rachel Starritt being blind makes it even moremomentous.
The talented teenager was just nine when she passed her Grade 5 examand, now13, she is preparing for the top grade, Grade 8.
Rachel's first brush with music was when she was three and would tap out nursery rhymes on her toy keyboard at her home in Brackla, Bridgend.
And now she is so good her Grade 7 exam was passed with distinction.
And teachers at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, where she has music lessons every Saturday, describe her as an outstanding talent who is as good as their degree students.
Rachel, a Pencoed Comprehensive pupil, likes to play everything from Lily Allen to Mozart and spends most of her time either listening to or playing music.
And being unable to read music has never been an obstacle.
Although Rachel has been taught braille music, she generally learns by ear and can recall melodies she has listened to with uncanny accuracy, her mother Andrea and RWCMD piano teacher Alison Bowring said.
"This is the first time I have seen such talent in 20 years of teaching," Ms Bowring said.
"She has an incredible mind and her musicianship is so phenomenal that she is more advanced than my degree students in harmony and style.
"You tell her something and she absorbs it and applies it straight away.
"The fact that she is visually impaired does have an impact. When you take one of the senses away it can make another more effective.
"I often ask students to play with their eyes shut. If you focus on touch you play in a different way. But the quick way her brain works has nothing to do with visual impairment.
"She imagines orchestrations."
For Rachel it all just comes naturally.
She said: "It started when I was about three. I think I liked it because there was lots of volume.
"I love playing the piano. It relaxes me.
"I practice for about half an hour every day.
"I can read braille music but it is easier playing by ear.
"It could be a pressure sometimes but it's really nice to have a talent.
"Children have got all different talents. My brother Alex is 6ft 2ins and he's very good at rugby.
"I don't want to be big-headed. I just love playing the piano."
Rachel took up the clarinet two years ago and is now on Grade 6 at that and plays in the school orchestra as well as singing in the choir.
Andrea said the family was stunned when Rachel started playing nursery rhymes correctly as a toddler.
"She lives and breathes and loves music," Andrea said.
"We are a very unmusical family so we just don't know where her talent came from.
"We are more sporty than musical. I played the violin for eight years and only got to grade two.
"As a three-year-old Rachel would be tuned into a toy keyboard playing and singing.
"We got her a real keyboard when she was four and a teenager who we knew taught her until she was six. We didn't have a piano then.
"Then she started lessons at the Forte School of Music in Cardiff. She did Grade 5 with a teacher there when she was nine and then started lessons at the RWCMD. …