Our last issue 22 presented Part 1 of a fine article by MENVI Specialist and President of Dancing Dots, William McCann. Subjects covered were "Role of the Vision Teacher," and "Considerations." Following is the second of the two-part article.
Note: The following article first appeared in the fall newsletter of AER's Education Curriculum Division and is reprinted here with permission.
The author is a blind musician, entrepreneur and the founder of Dancing Dots Braille Music Technology, L.P. of Valley Forge, PA. He holds a Bachelor of Music from Philadelphia's University of the Arts and has worked in the information technology and assistive technology fields since 1982.
Problem 1: Imagine what would happen if a sighted student walked into a scheduled audition for your school's band and the band director tells him that he need not learn to read music. He can just listen to the others and imitate them. Or maybe the sighted student announces that he does want to join the band but, naturally, he would not read that print music because he had heard that it is "so hard to read". But, all too often, blind students are told that they have no other option than to sit and imitate the sighted band or orchestra members. They believe their teachers--who, after all, are the authorities--that braille music is just too hard for them to learn or perhaps that there is no way that a blind person can read music at all!
Recommendation: If your student is a braille reader, make sure that his music teacher knows that there is a system for reading and writing music in braille.
Problem 2 The talented blind student does not learn to read but imitates others who play his instrument and soon takes on a leadership role. Johnny or Susie is soon a featured soloist with the band or orchestra and receives a great deal of positive approbation and encouragement from teachers and classmates. After a few years, as Johnny or Susie approaches high school graduation, teachers begin to realize that their student has a possible career in music and may very well go on to study it in college. It soon becomes clear that the student should learn to read and write music in order to be able to succeed as a music major in college since, in virtually all college-level music programs, students are expected to analyze musical scores for multiple instruments, take "dictation" and write down the notes they hear, compose counterpoint exercises and other written work, etc. But the student who has not ever learned to read or write music and balks at the notion of learning to do so because it seems to him that he's doing just fine with music and so never does acquire the skill. Over the years we have seen a number of talented blind musicians who have to drop out of college or change their major because they lacked basic music literacy skills.
Recommendation: Again, if the student reads literary braille, insist that he or she begin to read music in braille at the same time that sighted classmates are learning to read print notation.
GOODFEEL 3.0 with Lime Aloud JAWS users can navigate through a musical score hearing each note accompanied by a verbal description and simultaneously feel the equivalent music braille on a braille display. Even the non-braille reader can learn new material more easily and independently than working with a sound recording of someone performing his part. [later versions are now available]
Problem 3: Music educators usually have never had to include a blind student before your student turned up! They may resist or try to marginalize the student's participation. Issues are not just about literacy: how can the student "see the conductor?", how can the student march at the football games?, how can the student participate fairly in competitions?
Recommendation: I encourage you to visit www.menvi.org and consider joining the Music Education network for The Visually Impaired. There is no cost to join. You will connect with MENVI members who have been there and found creative solutions to these and other difficult questions.
Another excellent resource is Blind Music Student's web site, a site maintained by the National Resource Center for Blind Musicians of the Music and Arts Center for Humanity in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Contact your state's chapter of the Music Educators National Conference to get in contact with the Chair of their "Special Learners" committee. See The National Association for Music Education web site
Problem 4: You, the Vision Teacher, don't read braille music but you've been asked to create your student's braille scores. The school may even have provided you with our GOODFEEL software but you don't know where to begin and you've been told that there's no money in the budget to get you formal training. You've approached the music educator but he's just as put off by anything to do with braille as you are with anything to do with music!
Recommendation: We have found that the best solution is a division of labor. The musicians can learn to use our software to scan in or play in the music. They see on their screen what they already know, staff notation. Once they've created the notation file, you or your local braille production person can take it, run it through GOODFEEL and emboss it on the same embosser you already use to make literary braille for your students.
We invite you to join our online discussion group for GOODFEEL users and those interested to know more about automatic braille music transcription.
I hope that this brief article has inspired you to act as your student's advocate and guide in the area of participating in music making in school. The practice and performance of music teaches all of us so many valuable life skills such as self-discipline, working with a team, taking direction, taking responsibility, and on and on. We at Dancing Dots stand ready to support your efforts.
NOTE: Following is a recent article prepared at the request of Roger Firman, editor of the BRAILLE MUSIC MAGAZINE. The magazine is a British product which is published under the auspices of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. (Reproduced here with permission.)
The author is Braille Music Advisor and Transcriber Training Instructor for The Library of Congress. She is a blind musician and music educator, and also serves as MENVI appointed Specialist under the title of: "Music Transcriber Training and Certification."
My principal work as braille music advisor for NLS is to teach the transcription course to eligible braillists. Prerequisites for the course are United States citizenship, literary braille certification, basic musical knowledge, and the ability to read ink-print music. After being accepted into the course, students communicate with me by e-mail, telephone, and regular mail from their homes and workplaces across the country. Each of the 34 chapters in the textbook consists of explanations and examples, generally followed by self-study drills and a set of exercises.
The exercises are submitted to me in braille by e-mail or postal mail; I respond in print. After the initial submission, students resubmit exercises as necessary so that each aspect of the music code can be thoroughly mastered. Of course there is a happy continuum of discussion, explanation, and friendly banter all along the way.
Beginning with simple melodies, the course gradually progresses through the complexities of note values, octave marks, fingerings, slurs, ties, word-sign expressions, expression marks, repeat mechanisms, and ornaments. Two-thirds of the way through the course, students are ready to transcribe single- line instrumental scores and simple vocal parts. We then proceed to keyboard and orchestral formats, as well as the more complicated aspects of vocal transcriptions. The final chapter of the course calls for the transcription of a full-blown Schubert song with German words and piano accompaniment. Then, after a comprehensive review assignment, students take the final exam, which consists of transcribing a standard piano work. The reward for completing this rigorous process is an official certificate signed by the Librarian of Congress.
Certified music braillists work as paid or volunteer transcribers for individuals, school districts, and braille production organizations. In 1993 there were 15 or 20 certified braillists who were actively transcribing music in the United States. Since then their ranks have been increased by the 11 braillists who have been newly certified. The present enrollment in the music transcription course is 30, including several students who are nearing certification. Each successful student works very hard and is deeply appreciated here. There are abundant transcription opportunities for as many music braillists as we can certify.
Braille music transcription students vary widely in age, occupation, geographical location, and musical background. Somedevote themselves completely to braille; others fit the braille work into a demanding schedule of other activities. About half the students in the music course are incarcerated. As long-term inmates of correctional institutions, they learn braille for occupation and rehabilitation. Upon parole, these students can become employed as braillists in the outside world
While busily training the new transcribers, we must also be certain that braille readers are learning to use the music code. Much is being accomplished through MENVI, and through the National Resource Center for Blind Musicians ( ). MENVI, the Music Education Network for The Visually Impaired, is a voluntary worldwide coalition of students, teachers, braillists, and advisors.
Directed by David Goldstein, the National Resource Center for Blind Musicians not only provides information and encouragement, but also sponsors seminars where blind musicians enjoy face-to-face interaction with instructors and with one another. For many years a correspondence course in braille music was offered by the Hadley School for the Blind, and I am hoping that this type of distance education will again become available, perhaps in cooperation with the National Resource Center for Blind Musicians.
Meanwhile, because of computerization and increased demand, more and more braille music is being produced. The National Braille Association has a growing catalogue of braille scores which are transcribed by volunteers and are available for purchase throughout the world. The National Braille Association also provides continuing education for certified braillists. In addition, there is a revival of interest in music at braille production facilities, including the American Printing House for the Blind and the National Braille Press. For patrons of the Library of Congress, there is an extensive password-protected collection of "web braille" scores which are available for immediate download and individual noncommercial use.
Far from hindering or destroying braille music, the computer is helping immensely. Through six-key data entry programs, files can readily be produced, revised, and shared. E-mail is an ideal way to process questions, explanations, and inquiries. To prevent duplication of effort, we are using computerized catalogs and databases so that everyone can see what is already available. Furthermore, although complex transcriptions always involve the judgment of an experienced braillist, there has been impressive progress in the automation of braille music. Among my friends in the world of automation are Bill McCann at Dancing Dots and Sam Flores at Opus Technologies. In addition to transcription software, these companies sell excellent instructional materials in braille, ink- print, and computerized formats.
What can I say in conclusion? For me it is sheer joy to work with braille music every day. I am unceasingly grateful for the music itself, for the many dedicated people who make it possible, and for the God-given talent which is the ultimate source. I like to think that what we are doing is a fitting continuation of what was begun two hundred years ago, when Louis Braille devised the braille music code so that blind musicians could study, work, and perform independently. Amazingly, as one of my transcription students recently told me, Louis Braille's system of octave marks is very similar to the matrix that computer programmers use today to notate pitches for ink-print scores. What a giant was Louis! How blessed we are to reap the benefits of his genius and to do our part in ensuring their availability for the musicians of the future!
Ed. Note: Karen's article originally included Websites. Those venues mentioned in the article can be found on the MENVI Website as links.
Karen Gearreald, music transcriber Instructor for The Library of Congress and MENVI Transcriber Training Specialist, has provided us with the following list of certified music transcribers.
*The preceding lists may not be complete. They are based solely upon available information provided to us by members. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
The following is in table format. Columns for the sighted follow each other as follows: name of organization: E-mail address: web site(s): phone number. If the column has an N/A no data is available.
|Reveal Online Database
|National Library for the Blind
|National Library for the Blind Web site or OPAC Catalogue Login
|National Braille Association, Inc.
|National Braille Association web site
|NLS home page
|American Printing House for the blind
|APH web site
You will soon be receiving the new Membership Roster. Please review your current listing, then let us know before September 15th if you would like changes to be made.
Also, if anyone sees additions or corrections to the teacher / transcriber lists above, kindly let us know so our new roster will be accurate.Many thanks!
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