News Column

Blind pianist Michael Macias inspires film

September 18, 2013


Sept. 18--Brian Barnette was amazed when he first heard Michael Macias' original piano compositions.

That amazement was only heightened by the knowledge that they were the works of a blind boy barely into his teens.

"Even if you didn't know Michael's story," Barnette said, "you'd be blown away by how beautiful his music is."

Barnette was so impressed by Michael and his music that he decided to make a documentary about the 14-year-old Fayetteville resident, who has been blind since infancy.

That documentary, "What Michael Sees," is mostly complete. Barnette, who is the film's producer, hopes to screen it at festivals and for educational groups.

Sunday at 6:30 p.m., Barnette has scheduled a performance to showcase Michael's music and raise money. "Michael Macias: A Musical Evening" will be held at the Capitol Room in downtown Fayetteville.

"He's never really headlined his own little concert," Barnette said. "This is a chance for him to do that and get his feet wet and showcase his own compositions."

Michael said he is excited about the chance to present his music, and also about the upcoming documentary.

"I think it'll be spectacular," he said.

Michael was born 22 weeks premature with a condition called retinopathy of prematurity. The blood vessels in his eyes were damaged at birth, and multiple surgeries could not restore his sight.

When Michael was 2, his family bought him a toy piano. He was fascinated by it and soon was plunking out the notes to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Michael's mother, Angela Rafferty, noticed her son's talent and got him a keyboard, then a piano. Michael took to the instruments immediately, recreating songs he heard on the radio or television.

Soon Michael was performing at reunions of children born at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center's neonatal intensive care unit and other gatherings. When he was 11, he placed third in a Cape Fear Regional Theatre talent competition, performing "Unchained Melody."

Eventually, Michael started composing his own works, creating entire arrangements to flesh out his melodies.

Michael, an eighth-grader at Max Abbott Middle School, said he has composed 18 songs and is working on more. He described them as "all different styles."

Barnette said he first heard Michael play a couple of years ago at a Vision Resource Center program called "Out of Sight Movie Night" held at Cameo Art House Theatre to help people better understand the world of the sight-impaired.

"Michael had his little keyboard, and he played before the movie started," Barnette said.

Later, Barnette met Rafferty, was introduced to Michael and got to hear him play more extensively.

Barnette said he had been looking for a documentary project and was fascinated by Michael's story and his ability.

Michael wanted his music to be heard, too.

"When I met Michael, he said, 'I want people around the world to be able to hear my music,' " Barnette said.

Barnette is a 1983 graduate of Westover High School and attended the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. For years, he lived in Florida, where he helped manage special events for Disney, he said.

Barnette wrote the screenplay for a short film, "Canonize Me," which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival's Short Film Corner last year. He also wrote an illustrated relationship book called "Stone Upon Stone: In the End, It's a Love Story."

"What Michael Sees," directed by Brian Adam Kline, documents Michael's life and his growth as a musician. It is Barnette's first film as a producer.

Kline, who has a degree in acting from West Virginia University, directed "Alice in Wonderland" for Gilbert Theater. This is his first documentary.

"It's been a fantastic experience, this whole year following Michael. He's a very, very talented young man," Kline said. "I really want people to see this film. I think it's going to inspire a lot of people."

Barnette said he hopes to have principal filming completed by December with a rough cut of the film ready to submit to festivals by next spring.

Barnette said admission is free to Sunday's performance, but donations are encouraged. He said most of the money will go toward helping Michael record his music.

Mostly, Barnette said he wants to help get Michael's music in front of people and encourage him in his musical future.

"Nothing stops this kid," Barnette said. "He has such a passion for music as his language."

Staff writer Rodger Mullen can be reached at or 486-3561.


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