Many of us are surprised to learn that often vision teachers are those most likely to stand in the way of music opportunities for blind children. Don't start the protest emails yet! On the contrary, this is in support of vision teachers who are overworked, and understandably in fear of being required to learn another code.
According to one National Braille Association conference report, 'when a blind student wants to join the band or choir, his/her vision teacher (usually itinerant) has to approve the schedule change.' They know how long it took them to learn braille and Nemeth code, and with only one or two blind students in each school, they are resistant to learning another code.
Bettye Krolick offers this solution:
"At an in-service or workshop I show them the book, "How to Read Braille Music" and explain that they do not need to learn to write music braille - only to read it. When they realize that there are only seven different notes to learn (rather than the 88 piano notes on staves) they see why they can learn all the notes in less than an hour, and so can the kids. By the end of an hour they are telling me they really were 'scared to death,' but that they will help kids get into music at school, now that they know what is involved, (how little and how easy)."
There is a wonderful story recently posted on the MENVI listserve of the blind violinist, 14 years old. Her family contacted MENVI headquarters with questions about obtaining professional transcribing services for her orchestra music.
For many years the girl's mother would dictate the print music to her while she wrote it on her Perkins in the braille music code. She had learned her basics - on her own - from Bettye Krolick's renowned book, "How To Read Braille Music," and from other sources.
As the girl became more advanced, and her orchestra music more complex, it became difficult for the mother/daughter team to keep up.
They asked their teachers about getting music, but were given answers like: "braille music is too slow," and: 'well you can't fax print music to a transcriber anyway, it won't come out on a fax.'
There's no need to drag out the chase on this one, but the story ends with the young violinist getting her second violin music faxed, transcribed, and returned by email in a matter of days! She then patiently waited in class - with her music memorized - and while the sighted children were still struggling to work through the reading of the print parts. So much for 'well braille music is too slow' (big chuckle)!
MENVI Advisors will soon be contacted to approve of a new specialist category for the network. It has come to our attention that there seems to be very little expertise in the area of college music advocacy. Blind students are faced with difficult choices between the reputations of music departments and the specialized support they need to succeed. This is a difficult problem indeed, considering the cost of education today, and the time out of one's life to successfully complete school.
It is our opinion that no matter how fine the reputation of any college or university music program, it can fall dramatically short where a blind student is concerned.
We have recommended Valerie Gaer for the postsecondary music specialist appointment.Ms. Gaer brought about considerable change for blind music majors at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and is known for her Master's Thesis called "BlindSight; Literacy, Language, and Learning for Blind Students Enrolled in Postsecondary Music Schools in the U.S. (2000)." Following is a wonderful article based on her survey of 233 postsecondary institutions in the United States.
Music is a knowledge-based language. As a learned behavior, it is an understanding - an intimate communication that musicians share with their instruments as the result of years of practice and countless hours of reading the written page. A knowledgeable musician is, in effect, the product of his or her literacy.
With a single glance at a page of music, a sighted musician can absorb many pieces of musical information at once. For the musician who is blind, however, every detail from that printed page is inaccessible without the skilled use of the sense of touch and an ability to read braille music.
As competition for jobs in the music industry continues to soar, it is imperative for the blind musician to become armed with all the available tools at his or her disposal. It is also imperative to develop a common literacy of shared communication with sighted peers so as to be competitive in the job market. The question remains however, whether the educational institutions that accept blind students for enrollment are truly educating them, whether they have the understanding of how to educate them properly, and subsequently whether they ultimately accept the financial, ethical, and moral responsibilities for this task.
As an employee of Berklee College of Music for four years, and again during the completion of my Master's degree thesis at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston (September, 1997 to December, 2002),* I discovered many interesting facts, indeed! Most significantly, music schools nationally, and probably internationally, are not meeting the needs of the blind and visually impaired population in several areas:
Obviously, if a college has a student population of 3000 and only ten of those students are blind or visually impaired, the percentage may seem quite small to be undertaking these responsibilities. It is even smaller when a school has only one student enrolled with a visual disability. Yet educational institutions today are accepting the tuition dollars of the blind/vi population for enrollment, but they are not seeking alternative solutions for their educational needs.
As a measuring tool, I surveyed 233 postsecondary institutions in the US and received 70 responses to my inquiry. With a total population of approximately 19,000 students, the following results were presented:
This represented that .00005 percent of the population had a visual impairment.In the past five years:
There were many more questions and many more answers that I will provide in future articles.
Music education is not just for the sighted musician alone. Each individual must be musically educated to his or her very potential so that no opportunity may be lost. Each must be provided with an outlet for the inherent needs of artistic expression which is clearly stifled by lack of proper instruction. Braille music as a medium not only brings literacy to the blind music student, but also the endless possibilities of expression. These possibilities can open for them only in their own language - the language of composition, notation, and ultimately, in their own legacy.
There are no obstetricians who can yank us from the birth canals of illiteracy, whack us on the back, stand us on our feet, and ameliorate the passivity of postsecondary music schools with respect to its blind students. Change invariably requires a concerted effort in defining the fractures that exist between illiteracy and literacy. For blind students to thrive and grow as musicians, this effort, this vision in motion, is crucial to developing new tools for understanding and for action.
For further information or if you require assistance with defining responsibilities or assistance with advocacy for your student, please write to me at
*Master's Thesis: BlindSight; Literacy, Language,
and Learning for Blind Students Enrolled in Postsecondary Music Schools in the U.S. (2000)
As the compiler of the New International Manual of Braille Music Notation, I was given the opportunity to attend "Music and Braille," an International Exhibition on the New Technologies for Braille Music, held in Madrid, Spain, June 20-21, this summer. Although there were many announcements about the event in advance, there were also many questions. What organization is involved, who will be there, what will be going on? Several countries chose not to attend because a well-known organization was not involved.
I am pleased to report that a small group from Italy took it into their own hands to obtain the sponsorship of ONCE, the Spanish organization for the visually impaired. The meeting was welcomed by Mr. Jose Luis F. Coya, Director of CIDAT. The Italian who organized the meeting was Mr Giuseppe, Nicotra.
Presenters at the meeting were from England, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Russia, and the U.S. Other countries were represented in the 80 people who registered as attendees. After my opening with "An Overview of the Preparation of Braille Music" each of the specialists in the various fields of programming, archiviation, usage, and even the problems of copyright for music were given half an hour to speak and to have the use of a huge computer display screen. Periods of time were also provided for discussion and questions. These periods were extremely rich with suggestions to improve the international manual, exchanges of information about details such as XML, and all angles involved in producing music for the blind.
The original plan for the meeting stated that there would be demonstrations of the new programs going on at all hours, and that room would be provided for these demonstrations. Unfortunately, that part of the meeting did not happen. Apparently some one decided the wide screens with a half-hour explanation by each presenter would be more useful given the size of the group. The number of presentations and the eager use of the "discussion and question" periods filled both days completely. That was a weakness that could only have been corrected by giving us two more days of time. Every moment was full.
A quick summary of the programs from my view: lots of variety including sound as well as braille; lots of possibilities in the works but few new programs actually finished and on the market; Dancing Dots stands up very strong in comparison to others; the conversion from Finale to braille is breathtaking, but it must be used as an ad-in, and is not yet finished. In my opinion the need for buying the Finale program plus the braille program will affect its sale to individuals.
Hats off to Italy! Without any of the usual connections, they gathered an impressive group of experts. Listening to the use being made of the international manual in so many countries, the enthusiasm of both programmers and users, plus the constant interactions between countries was music to the ears.
Members and non-members are invited to view the new MENVI Website sponsored by Superior Software, Inc. All of our prior News Journals are available there, along with special links to published articles and list discussions on music and education for blind and visually impaired individuals. www.superior-software.com/menvi
If you are a registered member of the network and would like to subscribe to a discussion or announcement list, visit the site for additional information.
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