Although still a college student, Hailey Cone is gaining a following for the perspective she brings to her love of music.
She recently joined the writing staff for “Inside the Score,” a YouTube channel with 272,000 subscribers that produces content to deepen the appreciation of classical, film, and art music.
Cone’s first script — about Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand — debuted on
Aug. 22 on YouTube and had more than 146,000 views in its first month.
In the video, Oscar Osicki, creator of “Inside the Score,” included Cone’s personal reflection on how the Ravel composition inspires her as a person with a disability — and motivates her music studies.
“As a music student with my own disabilities and hardships to navigate, I come back to the left-hand concerto when I am consumed by self-doubt or fear,” Cone says. “Hearing that triumphant ending reminds me that adversity can be overcome, and even celebrated.”
The 25-year-old credits her experience studying at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) for providing a place where her love of music could flourish.
“GRCC is an environment where they see me past my blindness and see me for my love of music,” says Cone, who is a music major with a focus on singing. “This is the polar opposite of how I was treated in the rest of my school life.”
‘Music called to me’
Her musical path has had its challenges.
Cone’s vision impairment stems from complications from her extreme premature birth in 1996 at just 5 months gestation. She has no sight in her right eye and minimal vision in her left eye, even with glasses.
“I’m considered legally blind,” she says. “But I can cook, clean, and live life independently. The only real issue is I can’t drive.”
She has worked with the state Bureau of Services for Blind Persons (BSBP) in the past.
“I’ve gotten job training and college prep training through them, along with independent living skills, such as cooking, cleaning, computer skills, etc.,” Cone says.
Cone enrolled at GRCC in 2016 after graduating from East Kentwood High School. She originally planned to attend Western Michigan University on a full-ride scholarship but had a rough senior year and lost the scholarship.
“I started over, asking myself, ‘Now what?’ I decided to take gen-eds at GRCC to see how I would fit in at college in a smaller, close-to-home setting. So far, I’ve been thriving and loving my experience at GRCC,” Cone says.
Uncertain about a career, she considered English or social work degrees. But while taking an elective choir class at GRCC in 2018, her professor encouraged her to pursue a music degree.
“Music called to me a little louder,” Cone says. “I had this massive spark for music for so long, but it was extinguished over and over and over until I got to college, where it was finally ignited and taken seriously.
“From the start, all my GRCC professors have been really generous with their time — I’m just sort of blown away by that,” she says.
A perfect fit
Unable to read paper sheet music, Cone relies on her tablet to enlarge the music enough so that she can read it. She’s already enjoyed several semesters performing in GRCC’s Music Department’s College Choir, Concert Choir, and Madrigal Singers.
Her love of singing, musicology, and creative writing made her a perfect fit for “Inside the Score.” She chose “Piano Concert for the Left Hand” as her first script because Ravel is her favorite composer. He was commissioned a century ago to write the concerto for Paul Wittgenstein, a concert pianist who lost his right arm in World War I.
Cone attributes her interest in classical music to her early childhood.
“I fell in love with it and had no idea why at the time. But the exposure stopped when I was 9,” she says. “I never got back into classical music until college, when my choir director exposed me to (Franz) Schubert and J.S. Bach. Plus the influence of “Inside the Score.” I’ve always had an interest in piano and was involved in the Grand Rapids Choral Academy for a number of years. Now that I’m in college, I’m heavily into classical music and jazz, and I am hoping to go into musicology and vocal performance.”
In her role as a content writer for “Inside the Score,” she’s responsible for choosing the topic, researching the topic, and compiling pictures, sheet music, and background music.
“I discovered “Inside the Score” by chance — I was Googling music theory terminology for a class and found the channel back in 2018 when there were very few subscribers and videos. Over the years, I’ve kept up with their email list and social media platforms. Then, in April of this year, I received an email saying the channel was looking for content writers. So I applied, and in June, I heard back and found out I was picked with a handful of people to be a part of the team,” she says.
This semester, Cone is attending school, working on her second script, and debating the next step in her musical career path.
“Hailey is one of our very best,” says Caleb Wenzel, GRCC’s director of choral and vocal activities.
This article is a part of the year-long series Disability Inclusion exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.