A Life in Music: Making and Motivating It
By: Sabina Mollot (printed in in Town & Village on July 26, 2012)
Fans of pop standards, show tunes and pop songs from just about any era might want to head to Adriatic restaurant on Thursday evenings, when Audrey Joy, a singer/songwriter and keyboard player regularly performs. Joy, a Stuyvesant Town resident and former longtime music teacher, has been a popular fixture at the First Avenue restaurant, one of its owners recently said, since she began singing there a couple of months ago. Recently, when talking to T&V, Joy said she just plays any kind of music she’s asked to play from any era, but is often requested to do Sinatra as well as classic pop songs, and if kids are in the audience, she’ll switch without being asked to familiar show tunes like Annie or The Sound of Music.
Being blind, Joy will ask the waiters the approximate ages of diners as they come in and then play what seems appropriate. The performer, who has been blind since birth, said she’s never let her disability keep her off a stage. In fact, said Joy, who attended regular public schools where she was always the only blind student, I was always the first one to sign up for a show. Years later, when teaching special ed classes, Joy continued to stay close to the stage, always making sure she could put her students in shows, too. Some of them couldnt even talk, she recalled. But, she noted, I would give them a sign to hold up.
More recently, her gigs have been the Adriatic shows where she’s been the one doing the performing, and on July 25, Joy was featured in a Women in Music showcase at Gizzis in the West Village.
Meanwhile, she also runs a nonprofit called AJL Music with partner Calvin Stevens, who also lives in Stuyvesant Town. The organization (formerly known as AJL Music) is devoted to helping urban kids develop skills they need to pursue careers in music. The partners have also formed a for-profit offshoot of the group called Futura aimed at giving those kids, once they’ve been through the AJL program, additional artist development skills.
It was based on the premise of: Why are we pawning these people off to someone else? said Joy. For a fee we help them with the next steps of their career
In her 15-year-long education career, Joy, now 53, has taught music at several high schools, including Manhattan Comprehensive Day & Night School, Manhattan Theatre Lab, Repertory High School for Theatre Arts and Bayard Rustin for the Humanities. She taught special education at District 75 and has also tutored music and other subjects at New York University and Braille at the Lighthouse for the Blind.
As for her own education, Joy graduated from NYU with a degree in music business and then got her masters from Hunter in music performance. She got her start in music much earlier than that, though, if you count the toy piano she got from her mother when she was two. Joy was seven when she graduated to a real piano though, a donation courtesy of a music store in upstate New York.
This happened after a teacher asked Joy what her three wishes were. Her first one was for eyesight (though she now confesses she said that mainly since it seemed to be a big deal to others who were always telling her things like, I wish you could see this.) The second wish was for a father, because hers died when she was 16 months old. The third wish was for a piano. The teacher told Joy she’d see what she could do about wish number three, and then, unbeknownst to the girl or her family, placed an ad in a local paper, asking for someone to donate a piano to a blind girl. (At this point Joy was living in Nassau County, though as a child she moved around a lot with her family to different areas of New York City and State, such as Suffern, Queens, Monticello and Nassau County.)
Not long after the ad was placed, The calls started coming in, said Joy. One was from a music store called Jack Kahn, whose owner was willing to provide a piano from Hofstra University that had been refurbished. He said, Dont take anyone elses junk, recalled Joy. Thats when she began taking piano lessons, playing everything she could learn by ear and liked, especially songs from The Sound of Music. When there seemed to be no more she could learn that way, Joy began taking lessons in Braille music reading at the Lighthouse.
Later in life, Joy would teach others to play the same way she initially did, through music the student actually wanted to play and no dependence on sheet music. Love the piano first, love the music, she said. When you”re a kid you dont want to read music. They get enough of that in school.
Audrey Joy performs at Adriatic, 321 First Avenue, every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. No cover charge.