Sophomore Silvio Plata lost his eyesight as an infant. Despite his blindness, Plata leaned into his musical talent, learned to play several instruments and earned enough scholarships to study vocal performance on a full-ride at the Frost School of Music.
A new opportunity for Plata came during a chance encounter in March 2023, when he met Frost graduate student Camilo Salas while grabbing coffee at the food court.
“He helped me find where the line began at Vicky’s, because that’s always a little bit of a challenge,” Plata said. “So we just started talking from there.”
As the final project for his master’s degree in media scoring & production, Salas created an audio workshop for visually-impaired musicians that teaches the basics of music production. The project sets itself apart from audiobooks with its slow pace, attention to detail and interactive moments.
“There is no technical or practical guide for visually-impaired musicians to go baby step by baby step, learning how to click and start the process,” Salas said. “This specific audio worship takes the time to do that.”
After Salas told Plata about the workshop, the pair met again, and Salas got to see his work in action as Plata went through most of the workshop.
“He gave me his approval for the project, and that was so motivating for me to finish it, polish it and send it out as my final project,” Salas said.
Voiced by UM alum and producer partner Erik Gunarrson, the workshop’s 13 chapters cover every part of the production process, from recording and editing to mixing and mastering. The highly-detailed chapters thoroughly break down each skill, down to what keys to click and where they are located on the keyboard.
“I think it’s very helpful,” Plata said. “For a person like me who [doesn’t] really have much experience, I think it’s a great resource.”
Plata plans to revisit the audio workshop when he takes music technology next semester, a required course for Frost students. In the meantime, Salas is working on refining the workshop and expanding its reach.
“If this can go a little further, [Plata] is gonna be the first person to get the course,” Salas said. “I haven’t found a way of making it more public, [but] that will be fuel so I can keep going and keep developing, testing other students, making it better.”
The recent UM grad developed a passion for teaching music to visually-impaired students in Colombia, where Salas took a workshop on braille and music while completing his bachelor’s degree in 2018. This passion followed him to UM, fueling his master’s project and motivation to keep teaching music education.
“I believe that visually-impaired musicians have way more listening skills than what we have,” Salas said. “I think in the community, there are potential producers of the year, potential mixing engineers. They listen way better than us.”
Plata has seen firsthand how support helped him hone his musical skills. The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind — where Plata received therapy at 19 months old and learned to read braille — prepared him for school. At the Doral Conservatory, he received musical training.
“I’m grateful that I had a wonderful support team of music teachers who always helped me hone in on my skills and polish my talents, and get me to where I am today,” Plata said.
The young musician’s talent has scored him outstanding opportunities, like singing with one of his “biggest idols,” world-renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, who also became blind at the age of 12.
Plata got the chance to show Bocelli how to use a new digital braille reader when he visited the Miami Lighthouse in 2019, but didn’t realize the interaction would lead to a full-on duet.
“I’ve sung at the Marlins. I’ve sung at the Dolphins. I’ve sung in front of so many huge crowds,” Plata said, “but nothing compares to singing in front of that one person who you admire so much.”
He says his Christian faith gave him a fresh perspective on his disability.
“I think God took away my eyesight but replaced it with so many positive things — like my musical talent, my academic merits and talents as well — for the sole purpose to show society that a disability is just not a limitation,” Plata said. “It’s not an obstacle. It’s not in any way a hindrance to success.
The future is wide for Plata, who plans to venture into music production, but also has interests in political science and attending law school. At the end of the day, one question fuels his drive:
“Why not pursue my passion and just do what my heart desires?”