A gifted and blind musician

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Carlos "Chuckie" Ibay's home has three pianos. Music can fill every corner of the Fairfax house he shares with mother, Carmencita, and father, Roman.

"With God there is hope and in music there is life," he said.

Ibay is preparing for a Christmas concert Dec. 23 at St. Michael Church in Annandale, and his rich tenor voice recently filled his home with "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" as he accompanied himself on the piano.

He's the organist and cantor at St. Michael, but he's gone on to build a broad international audience. Ibay's voice, and skills as a pianist, have taken him around the world to play both religious and secular venues. Posters and photographs of his performances line the walls of his home. He's played in Spain, Russia, Brazil, Italy, Israel, the Philippines and Australia. In the United States, he's performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Carnegie Hall in New York and 23 states.

It would have been hard to predict Ibay's international prominence when he was born three months premature 33 years ago. He weighed less than 2 pounds and spent the first three months of his life in an incubator that caused retinal damage because of oxygen deprivation. He can only see shadows.

"He's my miracle child," said his mother.

The miracle continued when he was 2, and he sat at an organ and began to sing, and play, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." He taught himself to play the keyboard.

He took piano and voice lessons and his renown as a performer grew. Soon invitations came from around the world asking him to perform in some of the world's most famous venues.

But Ibay's life is more than just music. Along with pianos and photographs, statues of the Blessed Mother can be seen throughout his home.

"We are very devout Catholics," he said of his family. "My faith is important to me."

Ibay learned the language of eight countries out of devotion to their patron saints.

He credits his musical skills to his devotion to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians and church music.

He and his mother go to daily Mass at St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax Station and he recites the rosary four times each day. In fact, he keeps a rosary and a water bottle at each piece of exercise equipment in his house so he can pray and hydrate as he does his daily workout.

Being blind does present challenges. Reading material is either in braille or is read to him.

Every month he receives the Proper of the Sunday Mass in braille from the Xavier Society for the Blind.

His father reads the Catholic Herald to him every week. He said for years his father would throw in a fake classified ad to see if he was paying attention, "Organist wanted, must bring your own organ and lunchbox," he said.

But he has no regrets about his condition.

"There's so much evil in the world that maybe this is a blessing that I don't see what's going on around me," Ibay said.

He's upbeat about his talent and what he can do.

"God gave me this gift so I can share it with all His people and bring joy," he said.

Borowski can be reached at dborowski@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @DBorowskiACH.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012