Fiorentino croons

Fiorentino, 15, promotes Blindness Awareness Month with a selection of songs at the Rat.
Fiorentino, 15, promotes Blindness Awareness Month with a selection of songs at the Rat. (Janika Berridge / Photo Assistant)

By Shayna Innocenti

Correspondent

The Little Rock Foundation and accomplished pianist, Rocco Fiorentino, 15, took to the stage in the Rathskeller on Thursday night to promote Blindness Awareness Month.

This performance was the second of four events that will take place at the College in October.

The Little Rock Foundation was established in 1997 by Fiorentino’s parents, Rocco and Tina. The goal of this non-profit foundation is to provide help and information to families with blind or visually impaired children.

Tina Fiorentino explained that their inspiration to start the foundation derived from their son, Rocco.

He was born 4 months premature and was given a 3 percentage chance of living. “He weighed one-and-a-half pounds when he was born,” Tina Fiorentino said.

Rocco Fiorentino underwent 12 surgeries and 72 blood transfusions. The increased oxygen level that was maintained to keep him alive—due to his underdeveloped blood—caused the retinas in his eyes to detach.

“Now I only see light,” Fiorentino said.

Prior to the performance, Ms. Fiorentino spoke of how her son first began playing the piano when he was 2. By the age of 5, he could play compositions by Mozart.

Ms. Fiorentino explained to the audience that he has what’s called “perfect pitch,” meaning that when he hears a song he can sit down at the piano and play it.
At the age of 10, Rocco Fiorentino performed with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett.

Two years later, he made a guest appearance on an episode of “Sesame Street” in which he talked with the charismatic character Elmo about how he deals with life without sight.

“It was really a lot of fun,” Fiorentino said. “The episode is actually still running today.”

In 2009, Fiorentino started a Blindness Awareness Month campaign in N.J.

“I felt a lack of understanding when I presented at schools,” he explained.

Today, 44 states now recognize October as Blindness Awareness Month.

During the performance, Fiorentino played contemporary songs like Nat King Cole’s “Almost like Being in Love” to more modern songs like Bruno Mars’s “The Lazy Song.”

His jazz swinging music and the crisp tone of his voice captivated the whole room.

To keep track of his playlist of songs, Fiorentino would run his left hand over a machine called a braille note.

Fiorentino even admitted that he never really had a desire to learn the specific braille code for music.

“I prefer to learn songs by ear,” Fiorentino said.

The past two summers, Fiorentino has attended a program at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass.,where he studies music composition. “I just got a scholarship to attend this summer as well,” Fiorentino announced to the audience.

Fiorentino also played his rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Eyes on the Prize.” Fiorentino adapted another Berklee student’s method of looping and overlaying sounds to create a song.

He started with a prerecorded drone and drum, and then added breathing, clapping and various tunes to create his version the well-known song by Springsteen.

Many of the audience members agreed that this song was the best one of the night.

“He was really incredible and inspiring,” said Sierra Shade Waxman, freshman elementary education and English double major.

The audience was in awe as he finished his last song, Louis Armstrong’s iconic “What a Wonderful World,” and many could not wait to get the chance to speak with him after the show.

Ms. Fiorentino closed by saying, “For us, Rocco has been a tremendous advocate for the blind and visually impaired.”