Halfway through high school in early 1980s, Raul Midón sensed it was time to leave his comfort zone.
Then president of the student council at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Alamogordo — far from his home in Embudo — he decided to visit other campuses around the state. He and his twin brother, Marco, who also is blind, determined a new challenge would better help prepare them for college.
So, instead of continuing to board at the specialized school in Alamogordo, Raul and Marco Midón chose to live at home and commute to Santa Fe Preparatory School during their junior and senior years.
In 1984, the twins became the first blind students to graduate from Santa Fe Prep.
Raul Midón, now a noted jazz guitarist with two recent Grammy Award nominations, was back on campus Friday as the keynote speaker at commencement ceremonies for the class of 2019.
“When you’re young, being different is one of the things that is torturous,” he said in an interview last week. “Being blind and not being able to blend in tore at me when I was in high school.”
Since then, he said, “I’ve learned that the most important thing you can do is figure out what it is that is unique to you. That’s part of what I wanted to share with the graduates — what is your particular way of interpreting the energy of the world around you?”
Teachers say they still remember Midón serenading the school quad between classes. Classmates say he would demonstrate chord progressions in classical, baroque, blues, rock and jazz styles.
The guitarist said he best remembers playing at parties.
For the musician and his brother, who became a NASA engineer, adjusting to life at Santa Fe Prep was a difficult start to eventually successful careers.
“Honestly, in a way, the difficulty of that transition almost made everything else seem possible,” Raul Midón said. “People might say, ‘Wasn’t it hard to play at Carnegie Hall?’ But actually, transitioning from blind school to Prep was much harder.”
The twins were consumed with their schoolwork. They would record all their classes and then type their notes into a machine that converted the notes into Braille.
Santa Fe Prep Director of Library Services Jan Adesso, who just finished her 39th year at the school, recalled the boys’ efforts. “The old library has an [audio-video] room that I cleared out for them to use as a sort of headquarters,” she said.
“They would go to class and them come back there to type out the recordings. Between that and commuting from Embudo, that was a tremendous amount of work,” Adesso added. “They were unusual in their ability to adapt to a situation and meet the challenge.”
Raul Midón took private guitar lessons while he was in high school and played in school performances, he said, but he did not fully dedicate himself to music until he arrived at the University of Miami, where he earned a degree in studio music and jazz and developed his singing voice.
Midón was nominated for two Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy Awards — for Bad Ass and Blind in 2017 and If You Really Want in 2018.
While at Santa Fe Prep, Midón said, he learned to understand the artistic advantage of his own way of interpreting the world.
Fred Maas, who taught math and science at Prep between 1969 and 2011, said he remembers teaching the Midón twins about telegraphy and Morse code. In Raul Midón’s cover of “I Can See For Miles” by The Who, Maas said, the musician spells out the phrase “miles and miles” in Morse code a trumpet.
During a free concert on the Plaza by Midón in 2017, at least one audience member appreciated the detail.
“We hadn’t spoken in 25 years, but he recognized my voice after the show,” Maas said, “and immediately asked, ‘Did you hear the Morse code?’ ”