How a blind Latter-day Saint musician approaches COVID-19 and other challenges with eternal vision

Music teacher Kyle Woodruff can play more than a dozen instruments, from the piano to the ukulele.

And yet the 39-year-old father and returned missionary has never actually seen an instrument.

Born three months premature, Woodruff lost his sight shortly after birth.

“The optic nerve and retina were completely detached — I see nothing,” he said.

But Woodruff’s life is defined by vision and ability. Since he was a little boy, he’s been equally fueled by his Latter-day Saint faith and his family’s day-to-day expectation that he experience life in full.

“My mother should be nominated for sainthood because she never held me back — except, of course, for driving,” said Woodruff, revealing his sense of humor. “She was the one that told me: ‘Go to school and learn everything you can.’ ” 

Family photo shows Kyle Woodruff as a toddler plinking on the piano.
Family photo shows Kyle Woodruff as a toddler plinking on the piano. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Woodruff family

When the Church News caught up with Woodruff he was social isolating with his wife, Chelsea, and their two children — EmmaLeigh, 12, and Grant Taylor, 10 — in their Saratoga Springs, Utah, home. COVID-19 had forced the family to work and study at home. But Woodruff was handling the disruption in good spirits.

No surprise, he learned early how to approach hardships seemingly beyond his control.

“There are three ways to handle life: You can mope, you can cope or you can thrive.”

And music, he added, offers him the instruments, literally, he’s needed to thrive.

Family photos capture little Kyle pecking away at the piano before he learned to walk. “I would reach my hands as high as I could over my head and play the keys.”

His parents (Donald Woodruff and Claudia Prout) quickly realized their little boy possessed “perfect pitch.”

“If you turn on anything that has a pitch — the radio, the microwave, a vacuum — I’m able to duplicate that on the piano,” he explained. “When I was three-years-old, someone rang the doorbell and I ran over to the piano and hit ‘ding dong.’ ”

Soon the preternaturally gifted child was taking piano lessons and learning to read music in braille from an instructor who was blind. More technical piano training soon followed.

The young musician was drawn to anything that could generate a musical note.

“I’ve been playing the piano since I was three and the organ since age eight. I stopped counting at about 14 all the other instruments that I play.”

Woodruff said his music aptitude and his love for the gospel have long been harmonious elements of his life. He can’t fathom one without the other.

Doctrine and Covenants section 25, verse 12, says, ‘The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me,’ ” he said. “I believe that that ‘song of the righteous’ can be found in the piano, the organ or in the human voice. And fortunately, I’ve been able to use my musical gifts to give back and bless others at Church and in other areas.”

Woodruff attended mainstream public schools, graduating from Cyprus High School in Magna, Utah, before continuing his music education at the University of Utah.

He took a break from his studies to fulfill a service mission, playing the piano and the organ at various locales at Church headquarters — including the Tabernacle and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Elder Kyle Woodruff plays the piano at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building during his service mission.
Elder Kyle Woodruff plays the piano at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building during his service mission. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Woodruff family

Elder Woodruff was playing the organ in the baptistry of the Salt Lake Temple when he met the young woman who would later become his wife. Chelsea Allart and her brother, Jonathan, were performing baptisms and afterward inquired about the young missionary’s organ playing. 

“Chelsea and I talked for about three hours with her brother between us so we could observe the arm’s-length rule,” he said, laughing.

Three years later the two were reacquainted when both were singing in an institute choir at the University of Utah. Soon they were dating and later married.

Now a clan of four, the Woodruffs are, expectedly, a musical family.

“My children both love to sing,” he said.

The Woodruff family — from left, Chelsea, Grant Taylor, 10, Kyle and EmmaLeigh, 12.
The Woodruff family — from left, Chelsea, Grant Taylor, 10, Kyle and EmmaLeigh, 12. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Woodruff family

Chelsea Woodruff has battled her own health challenges. She describes their marriage as symbiotic. Both she and Kyle rely equally upon one another.

“When we were dating, a lot of people strongly discouraged us being together because I was in a wheelchair and he was blind. They could not see how it could possibly work. But from the beginning, I’ve been his eyes and he has been my physical support.”

During the ongoing pandemic, Woodruff is using Zoom and other social media platforms to continue teaching his music students at Ascent Academy in Lehi, Utah. The obstacles he has faced since birth now offer others a timely, eternal perspective on managing the events of the day.

“I see challenges as a bump in the road —  not as a wall or a mountain that will never be overcome,” he said. “I see challenges as stepping stones to the future.”