Getting to know: Elena Piras

Elena came to us in 2018 after moving to Oxfordshire. She has a warm, friendly smile, a positive personality and is a recording folk musician. Her second album ‘Where the Wind Blows’ has recently been released and she has spent her free time in the pandemic learning how to put it together. Check out the interview below to find out more about her.

What brought you to Oxfordshire?

I came to live in Oxfordshire about two and a half years ago. This was due to my poor health. I had limbal stem cells transplants in both eyes, which had to be done in London. I was living in Wales at the time of the operations. My condition is rare and doctors couldn’t care for me there, as they seldom saw people like me. To add to this, shortly after my second eye operation, which happened in April 2018, I had emergency life saving surgery due to a blocked bowel. I was in hospital for a month and spent eight days in intensive care on the edge between life and death. This happened in London as well. I required further surgery after this and I wanted the same surgeon to do it.

And how did you get in touch with OAB?

When I arrived I went to the community Centre in Charlbury. There I met Mary Gregory, who told me about OAB. Subsequently I contacted the office and used to come to see Judith Wood for counselling. I was very sad when I found out she passed away, as she was one of the few people who understood what I was going through.

Have OAB helped in any other ways?

I found out that it was possible to get some help to use my phone more efficiently. I have been losing my sight and things have been changing significantly for me. I felt quite silly when I discovered there were yet more ways I could do things. I thought I was a proficient user, but I was proven wrong. It was quite interesting to see how I got used to working one way and how a slight change in my eyesight had such a huge impact on the whole of my life. I have been severely visually impaired since birth, so I didn’t think I was going to be affected as much as I have been by my sight loss. Additional health issues don’t help either. I feel that I can contact OAB for help if I need it and I know that someone will be there to support me.

Elena smiling whilst holding an acoustic guitar

During the Covid-19 pandemic, you have used your time to release a second album. Tell us about how you have achieved this.

Recording and releasing my second album was a long journey. It started in January last year. I had a PA who was also a musician and lived five minutes walk away from me. He has a small recording studio set up in a shed in his garden, which he built all by himself using wood pellets. Then my mother passed away. She lived in Italy and this meant I couldn’t go to her funeral because the pandemic started its nasty work. I have still not travelled back to Sardinia. COVID arrived here too and with it the first lockdown in March. I was one of the lucky ones because despite this, I could continue to record my album. My PA was a key worker, working only for me at the time, so we didn’t have to worry about social distancing. I also had the opportunity to do some of the recordings myself. I signed up for an online course to learn how to do this. I thought it was perfect timing, as I could work on my songs as well as learn how to record and mix. I had some challenges because my eye pain would not relent and recording software is not easy to use for someone with a visual impairment. VoiceOver doesn’t always work and the screen is full of information, which is not easy to deal with when using the Zoom facility on an Apple computer. It took me ages to find other musicians who could not only play to the standard I required, but record themselves at home and send their work electronically. The fiddle player for instance, recorded herself in an airing cupboard surrounded by lots of duvets. My own recordings were done in my tiny study with no sound insulation at all. Most of the musicians on the album are based in Scotland.

Then there was the admin side of things, most of which I couldn’t have done without my PA’s help. Some websites are difficult to access even for sighted people, so it was even worse for me with poor sight and painful watery eyes trying to find the right button to click on the screen. The whole adventure took almost a whole year. My PA decided to leave in September, which meant I had to find someone else to mix and master the album for me. I didn’t think I was good enough to take on such a huge task. Recording was difficult enough. Luckily the pianist has his own recording studio, so I asked him to help. Bureaucracy kept coming my way and form filling was done with much difficulty. I found having to explain I was visually impaired and asking for help quite tiresome. My other health issues were also making things hard, forcing me to take one day at a time and to rest on a regular basis. However, my determination to finish the album kept me going. I now hope all my hard work pays off.

What are your hopes for 2021?

 That my music will be enjoyed by many in the UK and the rest of the world. I also hope to perform live in venues with an audience I can hear cheering me on as soon as the pandemic is behind us.

Elena singing into a microphone whilst playing an acoustic guitar

We wish Elena the best of luck with her new album.

You can find out more about Elena at www.elenapiras.com as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @elenapirasmusic.

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