Dr. John Vandertuin, who has been blind since birth, plays the organ at Grace Anglican Church in Brantford, Ontario in August 2012. MICHAEL PEELING/YOUR BRANT CONNECTION/QMI AGENCY
Dr. John Vandertuin
, who has been blind since birth, plays the organ at Grace Anglican Church
in Brantford, Ontario in August 2012.
Blind since birth, Dr. John Vandertuin
started to play the organ at age 3 without any training.
Vandertuin was born in Brandon, Manitoba of 1957 to Dutch immigrant parents and raised in the Christian Reformed Church.
The family home had a Reed organ the toddler was drawn to.
The biggest challenge for the three-year-old was getting the instrument plugged in because of his
blindness, a product of his
optic nerve never developing.
family tells him he
stood up on the foot pedals and started playing music from memory.
"I guess I knew what I was after," Vandertuin
"I was not a child who didn't have any idea what I was doing."
Hearing music at home is the earliest memory he
recalls, reminiscing about his
mother singing him Dutch nursery rhymes, which he
would sing back to her
Vandertuin's love of music has stayed with him as a world-renowned organist.
"The organ has so many sounds, like an orchestra itself," he
said of his
attraction to the instrument.
When it came time to enroll young John
in school, his
parents found no school in Brandon would take him because of his
was enrolled in a Roman Catholic school.
A nun would send him home with music for his
parents to play for him, which he
would learn and play for his
was nearing six years old, his
parents put John
on a train for Brantford, Ontario, more than 2,000 kilometres away, to attend the Ontario School for the Blind
(now the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind).
With no family to guide him, Vandertuin
felt daunted, but a few staff members were on the train to help him through the trip.
later wrote how the school became his
"home away from home" as he
lived in residence at the facility.
took some comfort in having grandparents who lived nearby in Mt. Pleasant.
A year later, his
family moved to Brantford.
Vandertuin credits good teachers and the junior school principal for helping him adjust to the school and his new life in Brantford.
formal study of piano and music braille at the Brantford school.
At 14, he
went to Paris, France with his
mother to study music with world-renowned blind organist Jean Langlais.
"It was quite an honour," Vandertuin
was invited to compete in the International Improvisation Competition in Haarlem, The Netherlands twice, making him only the second Canadian to do so.
talent and love for music, Vandertuin
first calling was to be a minister.
However, financial constraints led him to turn down acceptance in a theological seminary, but he
music serves a religious purpose.
"I like to think I minister through my music," he
Vandertuin works as a freelance organist at churches in the area, but his beliefs take priority over his occupation.
"If someone offers me a job that means I can't be open about my beliefs, I can't go ahead and go along with it," he
"I would be compromising my self."
At times, prospective employers have told Vandertuin
not to mention he
wife are born-again Christians, but he
flatly refuses to take those jobs.
"If I don't have my faith, then what's the point?
"I'm not going to compromise my beliefs, so I won't do the job."
In addition to working as an organist for several churches in different denominations, Vandertuin has also served as choir director.
has two free concerts coming up in October.
will play at the University of Western Ontario
(UWO) in London, Ontario at 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, then on Oct. 24 at 12:15 p.m. at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Kitchener.
will return to UWO
on Oct. 27 to be honoured with a place on the university's Wall of Fame at the Don Wright Faculty of Music.
The organist and singer has written and recorded his
own compositions of contemporary Christian music.
His albums include the 1999's "Glory to His Holy Name" performed at Holy Name Church in Toronto, "Christmas Classics" and "John W. Vandertuin, Live in concert" at St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica in London, Ontario, Canada, which was dedicated to the memory of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, and has been recognized by the Vatican.
has had many of his
works published and will soon be included in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.