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Visually challenged musicians find harmony HOMETOWN By SHARON DETTMER Tribune Correspondent Noah and Irene Carver perform folk music. Tribune Photo/SHARON DETTMER Noah and Irene Carver have formed good friendships over the years with the patrons of the Peaberry Café in South Bend. Singing their favorite Joni Mitchell tune, "Big Yellow Taxi," the folk-music performers from Mishawaka shared many happy evenings with folk music enthusiasts at the café. "We always enjoy playing that song together for people," Noah said. "It has a rock 'n' roll feel to it. It is an upbeat tune -- a good song to end a show with." Blind since birth, Irene, 51, found a sense of fulfillment in writing and performing music. As an accomplished vocalist, she learned to play the piano, guitar, dulcimer and auto harp to accompany herself in musical performances. Noah, 60, who is a self-taught guitarist and vocalist, is partially blind. He says that he has "travel vision," allowing him to "operate like a sighted person" except for driving a vehicle. Cultivating a musical career together with Noah has opened doors to many experiences for Irene. Music has defined their lives, according to the couple. "There is an expression that you feel within yourself that you want to release through your music," Irene said. "I feel a certain response to a song, not because I am blind -- but because I am a musician. "I may feel a lot of strong emotions about the music before I perform on-stage. And I have to work some of those feelings out before I perform." Irene recently completed her master's of music degree at Indiana University South Bend, with a concentration in voice studio teaching. At IUSB, Irene studied vocal techniques and principles of voice maintenance. She learned to sing with choral ensembles by listening to others as they breathed during a choral performance. "I learned that vocalists breathe in a kind of rhythmic pattern, so I would listen to hear them breathe before we broke into an entrance in a song," Irene said. The couple met in the summer of 1972 at a show at the Cincinnati Music Hall. Noah casually strolled over, said hello and they started to talk, according to Irene. "He asked me what kind of guitar I played. I said it was a Martin acoustic, but I think that he knew that already," she said. Noah attended the Kentucky School for the Blind in Louisville. Irene was mainstreamed into the public school in 10th grade at Whetstone High in Columbus, Ohio, after she attended the Ohio State School for the Blind. She said that she learned quickly that music allowed her to meet kids and share her talent with others. Noah and Irene joined the Family Owl, a folk musical cooperative in Cincinnati in the early 1970s. Many musicians who performed at the Family Owl can be heard on "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show, with Garrison Keillor, on Minnesota Public Radio. Irene met Craig Fuller, lead singer for the country rock band Pure Prairie League, and performed with him on several occasions at the club. In 1999, Irene and Noah recorded their first CD, "You're Always There," at Watershed Recordings Studio in South Bend. The title song, written by Irene, expresses the couple's lasting commitment to each other. The folk music performers teach voice and guitar lessons at their home. They miss performing at the Peaberry Café since it closed, and hope to play at some upcoming music festivals in the area. Noah and Irene don't always necessarily agree about music, but that's just fine, according to the couple. Noah's musical influences include guitarists Chet Atkins, Tony Rice and Doc Watson, who is a blind guitarist. Irene says she was influenced musically by folk singers Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. "I learned a lot listening to Joni Mitchell. I took it as a challenge to learn all of her open tunings," Irene said. Still, with all of their differences, the couple has managed to find common musical ground. "We had to be able to blend our backgrounds in music together," Irene said. "We talk about our different musical tastes and often have debates about what makes a good singer. I have my criteria and Noah has his -- in almost every style of music. We have found a way to allow each other our likes and dislikes." Noah says finding a common musical ground to share, hasn't been all that hard. "We both like James Taylor," he said. And their favorite song by James Taylor? "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You."