Gift from a Stranger Unwraps Musical Genius of Blind, Partially Deaf Pianist

Brian Horberg, 30, of Danbury, Connecticut remembers chatting with a man at Stop and Shop when was about nine or ten years old. But the chance meeting led to a gift that would ultimately change the course of his life. Horberg was born blind and is deaf in his right ear. His family received a call from Services for the Blind that the man, Glenn Smith, had a present for Horberg, a 66-key keyboard with preprogrammed songs. This generous act of kindness unlocked Horberg’s natural musical talent that led to his success as a musical entertainer.
Mary Casagrande is a Life Skill Instructor with Ability Beyond who has been working with Horberg for six years and has been instrumental in helping him grow his business-Brian Horberg Music. Ability Beyond is one of the nation's most respected service providers for people with disabilities in Connecticut and New York. Thanks to Casagrande’s coaching, Horberg performs four to five days a week at thirteen local senior centers, nursing homes, schools and Danbury Hospital. He’s even played at weddings.
“I am in awe of his gift and his playing truly touches people,” said Casagrande, “Brian started taking piano lessons at age seven, but it was the keyboard with the preset songs that really brought out his gift; playing by ear.”
Casagrande explains that Horberg doesn’t even practice, it just comes naturally. He hears a song two or three times then he can play it. Today he knows roughly 300 songs by ear, across all genres. His favorite is Amazing Grace. He also has perfect pitch.
With a nursing home background, Casagrande got Horberg started by offering the activity directors free performances. He quickly became a fan favorite and today they work together to arrange his paid and volunteer performances at nursing homes and senior centers. Casagrande accompanies him to ensure his concerts go smoothly.
“Because his ability comes to him so easily, he can get bored quickly when performing,” said Casagrande. “I’ll suggest songs and ask the audience for requests to keep him engaged.”
Casagrande also reminds him when it is time to play the closing song, “The Entertainer” or “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” during the holiday season.
Horberg is content with his current success, but his dream has been to play at Carnegie Hall. He still has the keyboard from Smith, although and he has since owned several larger keyboards.
His family calls Smith "an angel". When Smith personally delivered the keyboard decades ago, they learned that he had a 12-year-old son at the time and was an author living California. Horberg has a signed copy of Smith's book “Discovering Ellis Ruley”, the autobiography about the son of freed slaves who was born in Norwich, Connecticut and became an artist.
“It’s incredible that a normal conversation between strangers in a grocery line led to Brian’s discovery of his innate musical genius,” concluded Casagrande. “Brian and I have developed a great relationship over the years and we are always remarking about how far we have come.”
Ability Beyond is a 501{c} (3) organization headquartered in Chappaqua, NY and Bethel, CT. It provides a wide range of services for over 3,000 people with a disability that inhibits their activities of daily living -- including numerous residential alternatives, employment training, career counseling, job placement services, cognitive and life skills instruction, clinical and therapeutic support, and volunteer and recreational activities. Today, its services extend throughout Connecticut and New York’s lower Hudson Valley. For more information about Ability Beyond go to www.abilitybeyond.org.
PHOTO: Brian Horberg from Danbury, CT became an accomplished pianist and entrepreneur after a life-changing gift from a stranger and Ability Beyond’s life skills program. The legally blind musician with partial hearing entertains audiences at nursing homes, hospitals, schools and more throughout Connecticut.


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