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GRCC’s Tyler Zahnke one of 10 blind music students selected for SongSight mentoring retreat with Scott MacIntyre of ‘American Idol’

Nov. 4, 2022, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Probably no other GRCC student has “American Idol” finalist Scott MacIntyre’s cell phone number. But Tyler Zahnke does.

That’s because Zahnke is one of only 10 blind musicians in the nation selected to attend the first SongSight music mentoring retreat this weekend in Scottsdale, Ariz., featuring blind singer-songwriter MacIntyre.

“We’re going to be doing some songwriting, singing, and we get to record an original song at the end of the weekend,” said Zahnke, a GRCC music major. “But I’m most excited about hanging out and networking with famous artists like Scott MacIntyre.”

MacIntyre was the first blind “American Idol” finalist and a fan favorite for viewers for optimism in the face of adversity.

This weekend’s retreat is just the latest in Zahnke’s lifelong quest to make music.

Blind since birth, the 25-year-old Grand Rapids native said his love of music began as a toddler when his family would listen to classical music and his mother played the piano. After teaching himself piano basics as a young boy, he began taking lessons at age 10.

While taking online classes at Northview Alternative High School, he began composing, singing, recording and editing his own music at home.

But it was GRCC that changed his world.

Zahnke enrolled in 2017 and has consistently pursued his associate degree in music ever since.

“GRCC has helped me develop a deeper understanding of music, what a musician does, and has helped me get more in tune with different genres of music,” he said.

The best part, though, is performing.

Zahnke, who considers himself equal parts singer and keyboardist, has been singing with GRCC’s vocal ensembles since he started five years ago.

“Performing makes me so happy,” he said.

Although still charting his career, Zahnke said he’d like to eventually record an album, perform live concerts, compose production music for TV or commercials, and create music-related software for the blind.

“Living this life has made me more resourceful, and I think a lot of the challenges I’ve faced are being eliminated,” he said of his blindness.

For now, he’s looking forward to this weekend’s SongSight retreat and making even more friends in the music world.

“It sounds like a terrific program, and I am thrilled for Tyler,” said Debora DeWitt, GRCC professor and piano department chair.

This story was reported by Beth McKenna.