SHERIDAN — Not long ago, Laura Dotson, the volunteer music director at Sheridan Japanese School, had to go to rehearsals with sunglasses and ear plugs.
The Dallas resident, whose children attend the small charter school, was in a car accident in March 2015 that caused a traumatic brain injury.
“My son was driving, he had his permit and … neither he nor I saw the SUV coming and we were blindsided. I was struck to the side of my head and had a traumatic brain injury,” Dotson said. “I kept thinking I would get better and I didn’t. I wasn’t able to drive for three months, wasn’t able to read for six months.
The aftereffects of the injury left her with debilitating headaches, and sensitivity to light and sound. Reading was difficult because looking at the written word, or even a piece of paper, made her sick. She had to spend time in the dark for relief of the sensory overload.
“I’ve been through so many bottles of ibuprofen. Headaches, every day, massive headaches,” Dotson said. “It was like being an invalid.”
For the time she wasn’t able to get to the school, the choir’s pianist, Kathy Morse-Webb, took over teaching, said senior choir student Emily Monroe.
“I know she was constantly communicating with Laura,” Monroe said. “She never didn’t know what was going on, even though she wasn’t here.”
When she was able to teach again, it had to be from memory because she still couldn’t read without getting sick.
Dotson said she kept the program alive out a desire to give her children and other students at the school an opportunity to participate in a music program. Sheridan Japanese School has 88 students in fourth through 12th grade.
Dotson said the school has small class sizes and an exchange program that sends students to Japan, but few resources to offer extracurricular activities.
She started teaching music as an after-school program in the spring of 2014, shortly after her children were old enough to attend.
“My kids had been a part of the choirs in Dallas and one of the biggest disappointments for my son was that there would be no choir,” Dotson said. “I thought well, I can just try an after-school club and see if there’s an interest.”
There was, and the next fall the choir was part of the regular schedule as an elective. Dotson was still a volunteer, which excused her from teacher certification requirements.
“My degree is in English literature, not in music, but I really wanted to provide an opportunity for my kids to feel and experience the joy of singing, and singing in a group,” Dotson said. “My first year was wonderful and exciting. I got a really great pianist to work with me.”
That spring, the accident happened. While symptoms of her injuries still are present, her sensitivity to light and sound have lessened to the point where she can teach normally.
Her students recognized and appreciated her drive to keep the program alive through her recovery.
“She came in with ear plugs and sunglasses and still taught us to sing,” senior Sam Maddox said. “She is a very dedicated woman, and really impressive.”
The choir gives several performances throughout the year, including Christmas concerts at the Capitol in Salem.
Dotson said her love of music developed in her childhood. She remembers falling asleep to the sound of her parents singing and playing piano. Family gatherings at the holidays are a musical event that has the siblings making trips to retirement homes to sing carols for the residents.
She enjoys offering the same experience to the students at SJS.
“My brothers and sisters and my mom, they are way more talented than me, but it’s made we wonder that maybe someday I’ll go back to school and do music,” Dotson said. “But right now, it’s from love and wanting to have these kids experience as much music as possible.”