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Music Education Network
for The Visually Impaired

An International Coalition of Parents, Educators, and Students
MENVI Headquarters
SCCM - 8711 Sunland Blvd, Sun Valley, CA 91352
Phone: (818) 704-3819; E-mail:
News Journal - Spring 2005 Issue No. 20

Some highlights in this issue include:
  1. Former NLS Braille Music Advisor Passes
  2. Special Articles by Blind Educators
  3. Can Blind Musicians Work with Conductors?


It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Sandra Kelly, former music transcriber training instructor for The Library of Congress. Sandy was a fine pianist and very successful teacher of her instrument. She was a member of the BANA Music Technical Committee, one of the earliest MENVI Advisors, and served the Network as Music Transcriber Training and Certification Specialist.

Just hours before the news of Sandy's passing, Karen Gearreald was asked to share the NLS MENVI specialist appointment with her. Sandra Kelly had been retired from her NLS position, and was followed by Ms. Gearreald.

Sandy's husband, Paul Kelly, has asked that those who would like to make donations, do so to a charity of their choice in her name.


It is no secret that we are seeing an influx of new students in the NLS program. Those of us on the Endangered Species list sleep a bit easier these days knowing that new music transcribers will soon enter our field.

The new Braille Music Advisor for The Library of Congress, Karen Gearreald, presented workshops at the 2005 CTEVH Conference on the courses she teaches for NLS. Karen has formally accepted the appointment of MENVI Music Transcriber Training and certification Specialist.


The stir that was caused by one piano teacher's reluctance to support her blind student's desire to teach, continues to draw attention. Following, is the first of two articles by different music educators directly in response to this issue.

Alan Daniels is a blind guitarist, and teaches other instruments as well. He is a member of the Network, and has prefaced his article with the endearing words: "It is what I have to offer to people like me."

by Alan Daniels

I am a person now more oriented toward music education for the blind as well as performance. As most educators will agree, teaching precludes the teacher to be eternally "the student." I am always learning new material, creating, performing, and teaching others. As an undergrad I was a music major, however, I was sighted and used sighted materials up until I was fourteen years old. This meant that I did not learn braille as a youth, and had to pick it up as teenager and also make the transition from using print music to using braille music.

Yes, braille music can be learned later on in life, but compared to a student who learns braille when he or she starts reading as a child, there is a world of difference. If anything, the one thing that I have learned from the experience is perseverance. I started on the guitar as an instrument while I had some sight, so therefore, I had a knowledge of what print music looks like and how it is structured. This also can be an added advantage when teaching blind students.

For a time, I had little or no ability to use either print or braille music, therefore, I used the time to develop creativity and write songs, words, and music. I proceeded little by little to use braille for writing down words, chords, and for eventually some melodies. Music on the undergrad level taught me theory, and I evolved into reading braille music and analyzing works that I could make into arrangements for the guitar.

On the graduate level, I studied other instruments, developing those especially in the winds such as flute and clarinet. At all levels I was encouraged to use the keyboard, and found it to be an adequate workbench for any musical venture. By no means am I a virtuoso performer on an instrument, but I do have a number of well-rounded skills to perform and to teach.

Quite similar to our friend in Indonesia, I too was advised from a teacher, "don't give up your day job!" Yes, this may be a disheartening thing to hear, but perhaps it can encourage the most valuable characteristic of P-E-R-S-E-V-E-R-A-N-C-E.

Note: Alan Daniels resides and teaches in Branford, Connecticut. He can be contacted at 203-488-7348.


Leslie Kouzes is a blind cellist, and a fine one indeed! While studying at an SCCM Braille Music Division residency program, she performed a concert with a sighted faculty member who is a Violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Leslie is a born teacher. In a special class at SCCM, she invited each blind child attending - many of them learning challenged - to come up afterward and feel the physical properties of her cello. She carefully directed their hands to the various parts of the instrument for them to see how the sound is made.

by Leslie Kouzes

"Leslie, I think you can do it. You are going to teach your students by sound and touch." These were the words of Tanya Carey, the cello teacher at Wheaton College. I had studied with her for two summers at the MeadowMount School of Music in Westport New York, so by now she was very confident about my ability to teach cello even though I was blind. She was one of the people I had listed as a reference when I applied for a counseling/teaching job at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.

When I received the phone call that I was offered the position, I lit up with joy. Finally, I was going to have a summer job doing what I love to do most - teach and play cello. But how would I overcome obstacles like learning the music and presenting ideas and concepts in terms that sighted students could understand? How would I be able to keep track of how my cello students were progressing each day? Needless to say, this job required much preparation and planning ahead. I knew that before I did any teaching, my braille music reading needed to become much faster.

One of the first things I did in the spring of 2002 was to attend a two week program at Southern California Conservatory of Music, where I took classes in braille music, computer music, and piano. One of the things I liked best about SCCM was the fact that all the classes were tailored to each student's individual needs. I could go as fast or as slow as I wanted, and I usually took the fast route absorbing as much information as I could. Late at night I could be found in the library studying the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music in order to obtain more information about the pieces I was playing. During the day, I could be found at the computer working on a creative project using CakeWalk. If I wasn't playing cello, I was either in a practice room working on aural skills or practicing keyboard geography.

At SCCM my time was my own, and I spent those two weeks perfecting my skills and absorbing as much information as I could. By the time I left, I felt like my braille music reading had become more efficient, I had a greater knowledge about the advantages and limitations of adaptive technology concerning music, and I was starting to recapture my interest in playing piano again now that I knew my way around the keyboard better. I came back to my home town ready to take on the task of this summer job at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.

I spent the next few months getting the music transcribed into braille using two methods. Since I own Lime, GoodFeel, and SharpEye from Dancing Dots, I was able to have much of the music transcribed through the use of a sighted assistant with a music background and a Computer Science Degree. Second, I used the transcription service offered by Dancing Dots, a braille music technology company in Pennsylvania. By the time I made the trip to Michigan for the summer, everything was ready to go.

Blue Lake consisted of four sessions each lasting two weeks long. During the first and fourth sessions, I taught fifth and sixth graders and during the second and third sessions, I taught seventh and eighth graders. The first session was the time when I had to start developing my own system of teaching. I discovered that with a little help from one of the older students, I could go around the section to each student and show him/her individually how to make the kind of sound I was looking for. I also discovered that the more specific I was, the students understood at a higher level what I was trying to get across. Also, when teaching a group of ten or eleven cellists, I found I had to switch into what I call Group Mode. By this, I mean that there was no way I could fix everybody's technique or musical expressiveness in two weeks.

However, I did learn that I had to make statements that applied to the whole group, such as "Let's all sound like thunder at the beginning of this piece." Or, "Do you hear that, as the melody goes up in pitch, it reaches a high point and then it goes back down? Think of a phrase as a mountain with the highest note (the F-sharp in this case) as the top of the mountain. Once you reach your high point, start going back down the other side of the mountain." I found that if I give four counts to start everyone off and clap my hands to the beat, it was easier to keep the group together. By creating imagery the kids could relate to, such as imagining they were playing in a large cathedral, I found I could achieve more expressive playing.

During that first session, there was one student who I gave a few private lessons to, and luckily he was working on a piece I had played before. Although I did not have it in braille, I was able to offer feedback having played the piece before. I found that if I really focused on sound, I could tell if his bow was wandering and not staying in the same contact point, if his sound was being squeezed or pinched, and whether or not he was swinging his right arm - an important skill in order to maintain free movement in the right shoulder. In terms of left hand position, I found I had to use touch more to determine if the left elbow was at the correct height and if this student was pressing too hard.

As a cellist, it is so important to keep your whole body free so every joint is involved; your back muscles are involved in creating a big sound, your right arm swings in order to keep your shoulder free, and your bow moves slowly to maintain a constant connection with the string. Your left hand is like an ice skater, it stays nice and light, yet the weight of your arm holds the string down and your hand is absolutely free.

Before I get too technical, what I was saying is that by the end of the two weeks, this student was playing with a healthier sound, a relaxed body position, and most important, he underwent a significant attitude change. When he first came to Blue Lake, he did not have much confidence in himself as a cellist. After I worked with him, he would ask me for extra lessons and kept telling me that he had the desire to get serious about cello playing. The conductor noticed that his left hand looked more relaxed ...

Note: Leslie Kouzes can be reached at:


The subject of whether or not a blind player can participate in an orchestra and follow a conductor is always fun to debate. (Be sure to see News Journal Issue 2, Fall 1997, as Maureen Young - a blind professional concert and opera singer - writes the article, SO YOU WANT TO SING IN A CHOIR. ( Following are edited responses to a MENVI Listserve discussion. It was inspired by one parent's question regarding her blind daughter's desire to play flute in an orchestra.

"Kyra is playing flute now (as well as piano). She has been accepted into the school district's honor orchestra. They have a pretty short rehearsal schedule before a big concert on March 10 and 11. The flute teacher has asked how Kyra will know when the conductor indicates a "cut-off". Apparently, one or more of the pieces of music has several of them. I thought you might be able to provide some advice on how a blind musician follows a conductor." - Barbara


As a band director for a visually impaired band program, I hope I can lend some thoughts.

  1. My first idea would be to inform the conductor prior to any meetings of the existence of a blind musician in the performing ensemble so that person can make appropriation preparations and alterations to their conducting and rehearsal techniques, should any be necessary. Include the student's prior history with conductors and what adaptations had been made in the past.
  2. A basic understanding between the performer and the conductor should be made regarding use of verbal cuing (such as saying stop on cutoffs, or doing a count down for starts). The conductor should use verbal cuing during the initial rehearsals, and gradually move away from them as the performer gains a greater awareness of the conductor's technique and timing. If required during a performance, verbal cuing should be used, hopefully in mini-doses.
  3. The student musician should be positioned in the ensemble where verbal cuing is audible during the performance, but does not distract from the performance. The ideal position would be in middle of the first row, this would allow for the conductor to give required preparations and cut-offs visible to all performers and audible verbal to the blind performer.
  4. The student's knowledge of the material and level of musicianship will determine the level of assistance required by the conductor. My work with conducting blind students of different schools has allowed only a minimum amount of rehearsal time. During this limited time period, we would concentrate on those primary areas of the music where starts and stops occur, as well as sections of the pieces where unison rhythm patterns are required. The motivation of the students to perform well has always produced excellent results.

- Rick


Barbara, I'm a totally blind flutist who is playing with a community orchestra. Following a conductor is not all that difficult. If Kyra is sitting next to another flutist she will be able to hear the other person's breath for entrances. If she's using Braille music she will have learned the note values for cut offs. Our orchestra does 3 major concerts and several summer concerts each year. For most of the pieces I don't have the Braille music available. I tape record a rehearsal and play through the pieces with the tape, paying particular attention to cut offs, dynamics etc.

- Paula


Hi I'm Nicole's mom. Be sure to see TEN WAYS TO HELP A BLIND MUSICIAN IN BAND/ORCHESTRA by Andrew Meyer from newsletter #7 [] Nicole needed to be extremely careful not to start too soon, so she had to depend on her Stand Partner and listen carefully. She would start just an instant after the others in her section. The same could be applied to cut-offs - just stop an instant before the other players if the note can be counted. If the note is to be held, the conductor could give Kyra a predetermined length and then hold the note at least that long. If the conductor is consistent, there will be fewer chances for mistakes.

- Cathy

(Ed. Note: Nicole played 2nd Violin in the orchestra. See Journal 16 article, "Band & Choir Participation.")



From the desk of MENVI's Webmaster:
February 1, 2005 10:52 am US Pacific time

By Jared Rimer - MENVI Webmaster

Good day to all! My name is Jared Rimer, your MENVI Webmaster. I have some news, and I also need your opinion. We won't take up much of your time, but this is truly big news. So, here we go:

First with the news. On January 15, 2005 we had what could be called a virtual "melt down" on our Website along with several other websites at the time. Due to this, MENVI now has its own site. It can be found by pointing your browser to Everything is still working as it was on the Superior Software domain, and no information was lost during the transfer.

Now for the feedback we'd like to have. Let me do a bit of a background history on our E-mail lists, and what I'd like to do. Our domain can now host our mailing lists. While I like Topica, we've had problems with blocking of domains by ISP's who use black listing companies. These companies are not concerned as to how you get your mail, which E-mail lists if any you're on Their job is to stop Spam or junk mail from entering your inbox. As a result, MENVI would like to host our own mailing lists. We have 50 current subscribers on our Discussion list, and 9 subscribers on the Announcement list. The Discussion list has existed since 2000, and the Announcement list was started in the middle of 2004.

Because I'd like your feedback on whether you would like us to move our lists, I've set up an address to which you can send your input. That address is simply I won't create the lists until we see enough support from the community to which your opinion counts. The feedback address is a forwarded, and an auto response will be generated thanking you for your feedback. Another announcement will come through the lists once the decision is made. When we move the lists, you need not respond. You will be directly added to the list. If you would like to speak to me directly, please call toll-free (U.S. or Canada only) (866) 824-7876. International customers (818) 703-0741. Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you.

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