Milwaukie resident Jane McIver's humor and talent inspire others
'I don't consider my blindness an adversity, just a situation I have to deal with. Everyone has situations, and this one is mine,' McIver said.
Jane McIver has a message that comes from her Baha'i faith: "Be not idle, but active and fear not."
The saying is personal to the Milwaukie resident — she was born without sight but has never let that fact hold her back or slow her down.
"I don't consider my blindness an adversity, just a situation I have to deal with. Everyone has situations, and this one is mine," McIver said.
"I use the gifts I have. I have tools like great hearing and very sensitive fingers to deal with it. Plus a mother who encouraged me to be positive, try new things and figure out ways to circumvent my blindness, a fact of life for me which is unchangeable.
"I'm differently abled, but I do what I have to do and do what I like to do," she said.
And what McIver likes to do revolves around music; she is a member of the West Linn Community Chorus and the MC Jammers, a ukulele group that meets once a week at the Milwaukie Center.
McIver learned early in life that she has perfect pitch and a real knack for mastering musical instruments. These two talents have led to her playing the piano, violin, flute, mandolin, guitar, ukulele and a variety of percussion instruments.
In fact, McIver doesn't even play the ukulele when she comes to the MC Jammers; instead, she plays the mandolin, violin, flute or tambourine because she likes adding a different sound that blends in with the group.
"The ukulele group has songs that have instrumentals arranged for her to come in. For example, she plays the flute instrumental in 'California Dreaming.' She has even picked up [a Russian instrument called a domra] and has been able to play it. She is amazing," said Claire Ishii, leader of the MC Jammers.
What McIver likes best about the group is that all are welcome to attend no matter the skill level, and members are all friendly, good people.
"One lady in the group said to me, 'Music is in your blood,' while another person said I was married to music," McIver said.
McIver's sense of humor also endears her to the group, said Tina Johnson, recreation coordinator at the Milwaukie Center.
"[Jane] is quick to let people know that she is unable to see a page number or the color of a book or whether a light is on or off. Claire will often ask the group to play the song 'Sway' without looking at the sheet music. Of course, Jane immediately says, 'OK, I won't,'" Johnson said.
Because McIver has no trouble asking for help or letting people know she can't see, this has allowed her to be independent," Johnson said.
She added: "She inspires me every time with her abilities to be happy and make other people happy with her musical talent and charming personality. I am often humbled by Jane. I take my eyesight for granted. However, having her at the center makes me realize that life goes on."
Another person who admires McIver is former Milwaukie resident Sherri Campbell, who has been with the MC Jammers since the group started five years ago.
"She has to do [all the music] by ear. She hears the notes and knows exactly where to put her fingers on the strings to get that sound," Campbell said.
"When Sherri and I sing together, we harmonize, but it is more than that," McIver said, noting that the two women just instinctively follow each other up and down chord changes.
Johnson added that, in addition to being in the ukulele group, McIver played the violin for the center's golden wedding anniversary event.
"People enjoyed listening to her music as they were being seated and waiting for the ceremony to begin. She had a big applause when her name was announced," she said.
McIver traces her sense of independence back to her upbringing in Virginia — specifically to her mother's influence.
"I was the first blind kid in public school in Alexandria, Virginia. That just wasn't done then, but I had a mother who was incredible," she said.
Her mother played the piano, and when McIver was 2 her mother showed her where the notes A and C were on the keys. Later, after playing around on the piano on her own, she went back to her mother and told her she figured out there was more than one kind of C note.
"My mother said 'show me' and I did, and that is when she realized I had perfect pitch, just like my mom's brother," McIver said.
After taking piano lessons for a while, McIver took up the violin.
"My mother drove me and my sister to the swimming pool to make sure we learned how to swim. Then one day a man at the pool started talking to her and told her he played second violin in a symphony in Washington, D.C."
He said he would teach her daughter to play the violin, and thus began McIver's lessons on that instrument.
"When I was about 12, my mother started telling me I was going to grow up and be a music teacher and in order to do that I needed to learn a wind instrument, so she started me on flute," McIver said.
Around the same time, her mother worked for entertainer Arthur Godfrey, who gave her a ukulele.
"My mother gave me some informal lessons [on the ukulele] from a book. Then I started playing the guitar, although I have never had a lesson," McIver said.
What she likes best about the ukulele is that it is "soft and gentle, is portable and has a beautiful sound."
McIver lives on her own and uses TriMet Lift to go where she needs to go in her daily life. She also gets rides from friends to her various activities.
She has a talking watch, thermostat and blood-pressure machine, and has screen-reading software installed on her computer that talks to her, so she can do email and other work.
"I learned braille when I was about 5, and my mother learned right along with me, and she brailled books for me to read," she added.
McIver earned a dual degree in linguistics and German in 1971 from the University of Rochester and moved to Oregon in 2006. She attended Marylhurst University, where she took six terms of college-level music theory, giving her a thorough grounding in music, she said.
It was at Marylhurst that she first found out about drum circles, and began leading those.
McIver encourages people to "follow your dreams and be active."
For those considering taking up the ukulele, she said, "Come and listen or come and play. There are all skill levels in our group. The worst one in the group is the one who isn't there."
McIver doesn't usually make a lot of New Year's resolutions, but said that in 2017 she is "hoping to find more unique opportunities to serve my corner of the world and would like to find a part-time paying job. I hope to continue to make people around me laugh a lot."
Play a little, pick a little
What: The Milwaukie Center's ukulele group the MC Jammers, welcomes new members
When: 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Thursdays
Where: The Milwaukie Center, 5440 S.E. Kellogg Creek Drive
Contact: Call the center at 503-653-8100 for more information
The Clackamas Review and Oregon City News are doing a series about local residents rising above adversity. If you know someone who has struggled with obstacles but is working to overcome them, send an email