OREM Ron Roberts gingerly runs his fingers across the piano keys, feeling each individual ridge before settling his hands in C position.
His eyes are blank, unseeing, as he deftly searches out each chord with fingers made hyper-sensitive by years of blindness.
"My hands can be a substitute for my eyes," said the 42-year-old Provo resident, who was born blind, as he packed up after a long afternoon playing Christmas carols at University Mall.
"With my hands, I can feel different textures. Piano keys, walls, trees, sand, rocks."
Roberts has been making his living pounding the keys at Nordstrom, private parties and University Mall for nearly six years. But he began dreaming of performing as a musician when, as a boy, he first heard The Eagles sing "Lying Eyes."
"Music puts me in a good mood," he said. "I love to serve people through the music that I make."
Shoppers paused to listen as Roberts poured out smooth renditions of "Still, Still, Still" and "Carol of the Bells" Friday.
"He's phenomenal," said Trevor Freckleton, a 21-year-old Utah Valley State College student who lingered to listen. "I choose to sit here because I enjoy the ambience."
Paden Jorgensen, 10, ran up to stuff a few dollar bills into an already-stuffed tip jar perched on Roberts' grand piano.
"It's beautiful music," Paden said. "It really helps bring Christmas cheer."
Some passers-by introduced themselves. They had heard Roberts play before. The piano player turned his head at each compliment and quietly thanked them for listening.
Roberts is always polite and kind, said long-time friend Bill Aaron of Lindon. Aaron first heard Roberts play at a Provo country club 12 years ago and has been a fan ever since.
"He's got so many songs in his head," Aaron said. "I'll give him requests and he can play just about anything."
Roberts estimates he knows about 1,000 songs, ranging from Beethoven to The Carpenters. He spends about an hour a day running through the songs which he plays from memory so he won't forget.
Because he can't see to read music, Roberts figures out the melodies by listening to CDs. Piano lessons taught him to recognize intervals and chords by ear, he said. It takes him about two to four trial runs to master a tune."I hear the chords, memorize all the notes and then I play it," he said. "That doesn't mean that it's going to be exactly right, but it's basically the same."
"My hands can be a substitute for my eyes.