Honor Student's Accomplishments are Truly Extraordinary

May. 7, 2013

Honor Student's Accomplishments are Truly Extraordinary

A gifted soprano who excels at opera, Webster University senior Julie McGinnity graduated with a long list of accomplishments to her name.

  • Magna cum laude.
  • Not one, but two bachelor‘s degrees: one in music with an emphasis in vocal performance and another in German.
  • Departmental honors in both music and international languages and cultures.
  • Tutoring Webster University students who take German classes.
  •  Teaching German to nine- and 10-year-olds on Saturdays.

That's impressive for any student. But for Julie, the accomplishments are extraordinary. That's because Julie has been blind since birth.

And that meant she had to learn how to read Braille-style sheet music in order to succeed, a skill she learned at Webster. “I've always loved to sing, and at age 10, my mom put me in voice lessons,” she said.

By age 16, Julie auditioned for and was accepted into Opera Theatre of St. Louis's highly selective Artists-in-Training program for high school students. Through the program, Julie received weekly voice lessons and the opportunity to work with guest artists who are professional opera singers.

Webster University was a natural choice for Julie, who was interested in attending a school that was close to her home and church and offered an excellent music program.

Julie has read Braille since age six, but it wasn't until she came to Webster that she learned to read music in Braille using music transcription software for the blind called “Dancing Dots.”

“Carol Gaspar, who is director of Vocal Studies, and my vocal coach Nancy Mayo influenced me to start reading music,” Julie said. “They convinced me that to be successful, I needed to be able to read music in Braille.”

By learning to read the music instead of just memorizing it “by ear,” Julie could read the notations, get a better idea of the timing and the key changes, and gain a better understanding of what the original composer may have been trying to do with the music. This allowed her to bring her own interpretation to pieces instead of relying on the musical translations of others.

Over the past four years, Julie and her guide dog, Brie, a yellow Lab, have become a familiar duo on the Webster campus and an integral part of the University community. By excelling in her studies, Julie has become a trusted mentor and tutor to other students at Webster.

She plans to continue with her studies after graduation. In the fall, Julie will attend Mizzou to study for a master's degree in vocal performance. Her career goal is to work in a college setting, teaching voice and performance skills to opera and musical theatre students.

“The work Julie and I were able to do together to find resources for the Dancing Dots music software, training on this software and the embossing equipment has enabled her to participate more fully in her music courses,” said Cindy Yamnitz, assistive technology coordinator for Webster. “Additionally, Julie has a great vision for a world without barriers and I believe our work in the ARC has helped her to develop that vision. Julie is well prepared to leave Webster and take on the world.”

On Saturday, May 11, 2013 Julie, with Brie by her side, attended Webster's 94th commencement at the Muny in Forest Park and walked the aisle to her seat.