When Scott MacIntyre gazed upon his great-grandmother’s upright piano for the first time, it was like looking at his future.
Then 3, Scott played one-finger melodies to the delight of his mother, Carole.
It was 1989, and Carole had just inherited the piano.
“Sometimes it would get quiet, and I would go out and find him asleep on the piano bench,” she said.
That was just the beginning of how music would shape the family’s life.
Scott’s younger brother, Todd, and their baby sister, Katelyn, soon followed in his footsteps.
“I was always exposed to music because Scott was always playing,” said Todd, now 20.
The siblings and their mother created the MacIntyre Family Singers in 1998 and since have traveled the world inspiring audiences through gospel, Broadway, jazz, classical and pop rock.
The Scottsdale family quartet has a sound like “Manhattan Transfer meets Josh Groban,” said Scott, now 22.
Scott and Katelyn, 16, were born with congenital blindness, which has impaired their vision since birth. Scott’s field of vision is about 2 degrees; Katelyn’s, only slightly wider.
“It’s like looking through a straw at the world,” Scott said. “Because of the lack of vision, I tried to fill that space with sound.”
Third time’s a charm
This year, VSA Arts, a non-profit arts organization based in Washington, D.C., chose the MacIntyre Family Singers from among 100 aspiring U.S. and international soloists and ensembles to receive the International Young Soloist Award.
The MacIntyres will travel to Washington to perform May 29 at the awards ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which sponsors the award. They also will receive $5,000.
This was the third year that the MacIntyres entered VSA’s young soloists competition. Scott answered the phone when VSA called with the news.
“It took me a second, then I was so excited,” he said. “The opportunity to play at the Kennedy Center is huge!”
Although the award goes only to the siblings because of an age requirement, mom Carole will be invited onstage during the performance to sing in one of the four songs they will perform.
The group released an album in 2005 with rearranged classics from such composers as Antonio Vivaldi, and such performers as Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion.
The family has performed at churches and larger venues, including concerts in Washington, D.C., London and Toronto. They also have appeared on several local programs, including Arizona Midday on Channel 12 (KPNX) and Good Morning Arizona on Channel 3 (KTVK).
The MacIntyres said they will continue to work together and are excited for the future.
“I hope we have the MacIntyre Family Singers going forever,” Scott said. “It’s amazing to do that as a family.”
In addition to their work as a group, each also pursues projects independently. Everyone in the family agrees music has enriched their lives.
Carole said she didn’t believe Scott and Katelyn would have the same opportunity as other children in a traditional school, so she home-schooled all three children.
Scott and Todd began training in classical piano at ages 5 and 4. They both play several instruments, including guitar and drums.
They learned piano through the Suzuki Method, developed by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki, which trains children to play music by ear before learning to read the notes.
Katelyn began singing in a choir when she was 6 and focused on vocal performance.
Each sibling grew separately and together.
Scott, who has already written and released five full-length albums, said he uses music as a medium to communicate his feelings.
“A lot of times you can say things in a song that you can’t say in speech,” he said. “It’s a very transparent medium that allows people to see your inner thoughts.”
Scott continued studying piano performance at Arizona State University’s Herberger College of the Arts at 14 and debuted with the Phoenix Symphony at 15.
When ASU piano Professor Walter Cosand first heard that 14-year-old Scott was looking for a piano teacher, he thought the teen was too young, but after hearing him play, he was impressed.
Cosand said Scott’s visual impairment never held him back.
“He’s always been able to do what everyone else could do and many things no one else could do,” he said. “A lot of things he does are very remarkable, even for someone without a disability.”
Scott was named a Marshall and Fulbright Scholar and received a master’s degree from the Royal College of Music in London in 2006.
“I got into music because of my visual impairment,” Scott said. “I could never play baseball. Music has become my sport.”
Todd is graduating from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in business economics in May, but he still plans to pursue musical theater.
“I still hope to pursue music in some fashion but thought it would be wise to have a business degree,” Todd said. “I always have it to fall back on if music doesn’t end up feeding me.”
Todd recently performed the lead in Scarlet Pimpernel at Southwestern College and landed the role of Kenickie in a production of Grease in summer 2007.
James Rio, company manager at the Arizona Broadway Theatre in Phoenix, who got to know Todd while working on Grease, said Todd’s seriousness in performing sets him apart from his peers.
“Todd exudes a grounded and centered nature that belies his age,” Rio said. “His singing and performing, too, are at a level that you would find in someone with more years under his belt.”
Katelyn, technically a high-school junior, has been taking classes in musical theory for four years at Scottsdale Community College, where she began singing in the choir at 11.
SCC music Professor Christina Novak has worked with Katelyn for two years.
“With or without a disability,” Novak said, “she’s exceptional.
“(Katelyn) is so motivated and focused on achieving excellence.”
She added that Katelyn would be an excellent music teacher one day: “She has a wonderful personality.”
Katelyn said she will probably pursue a vocal-performance degree. Right now, she said, she’s just getting an early start.
“It’s a lot of fun when you get a great song and start performing,” Katelyn said “You can really touch people through music.”
Scott and Todd also dabble in other musical genres, including rock and roll.
“I enjoy performing, whether it be singing classical or rocking out onstage or doing a musical,” Todd said. “It’s what I love to do.”
The family agreed that for any musician, there are always obstacles to overcome. But for them, they said, failure was never an option.
“If you believe you’ll fail, you’ll fail,” Scott said. “People with disabilities can accomplish things like this – if you set your mind to it.”
– by Amy Brooks