Future Reflections March/ April 1983, Vol. 2 No. 2
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By Deborah Caldbeck
At the age of four, I derived enjoyment from imitating music heard on the radio. Three years later, upon my insistence, I started piano lessons, little knowing what a challenge lay in store for my parents, my piano teacher, and myself in obtaining music.
Friends suggested to my parents that they obtain music materials from the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School and from the American Printing House. These proved to be viable sources. The Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School sent cards showing the Braille music symbols and their print counterparts. My piano teacher would tell me what each symbol meant, and I would memorize them. The American Printing House supplied music books. It was at this time it became necessary for me to develop a technique whereby to memorize this music. The solution I found most feasible was: read a few measures of the music written for the right hand with the left hand, play it; reverse this procedure for the left hand; play both hands together; and continue doing this until the music was memorized.
At the age of ten, I had the good fortune of meeting a woman who not only taught piano but also Brailled music. As her piano student I was exposed to a wider variety of music and became proficient in reading the Braille music code.
At the age of thirteen, I embarked upon another facet of instrumental music. This time it was the organ! I took lessons from the church organist. At this point in time, my piano teacher not only gave me piano lessons, but was also considerate enough to Braille the organ music I needed. Two challenges which faced me as an organist were: first, when playing both manuals simultaneously how was I to know which stops to push? Second, when playing for Mass, how was I to know when the priest entered or the distribution of the Eucharist was completed, in order to play at the appropriate times?
The solutions to these challenges were: first, the church organist chose stops that would always sound appropriate, and I would change manuals or chords to change the tone of the music. (If I had continued to play the organ longer, I would have marked the stops tactually in some way.) Second, someone would give me some cues from time to time.
At the age of fifteen, I decided to forego all music lessons, feeling that a successful high school education was more important. This move caused me grief, but the sacrifice was worth it, as I graduated with academic honors in May, 1980. After graduation I became an employee with the state of Iowa.
A few weeks later, it was mentioned to me that the church choir was looking for new members. I was hesitant to join choir, knowing that my Braille music reading skills and singing voice were not at their best. But being a music enthusiast overshadowed these fears. My former piano teacher and music Braillist was considerate enough to Braille the vocal music I needed.
I shall take this opportunity to discuss challenges encountered by me as a choir member, and my solutions for them. First of all, I keep good communication lines open between the choir director, organist and myself. This enables me to obtain the music ahead of time with the part to be Brailled marked in pencil. Second, because of circumstances, I cannot always have Braille music. I stand by one of the women with a strong voice; this way it is possible for me to learn the music by rote memory without asking for much extra assistance.
Sight-reading vocal music proves to be another challenge. I have found it best to use a director's music stand for this purpose. Sight-reading is challenging because of coordinating the words and music and keeping your place.
Another resource which I have found helpful is NLS Music Section, (National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped). They have supplied me with music, Braille music transcription manuals, and music dictionaries.
Because of changing circumstances, I felt it best to find another option for transcribing Braille music. First I tried taping. This was not satisfactory because the choir director, organist, and sopranos were having to devote extra time to do it. So with the assistance of manuals from NLS and another blind musician, I learned how to transcribe my own Braille music. Seeing that I was accepting this challenge, a choir member volunteered to read any music that I need to transcribe.
I am still enjoying my involvement in music, and realize that without the dedication of a lot of hard working people it would not be possible. I hope that this article will be helpful to young musicians whose enthusiasm and talents are just beginning to unfold.
Deborah Caldbeck graduated from Dowling High School, a Catholic school with an excellent reputation, in Des Moines, Iowa. She was awarded the Aquinas Key award for high achievement.
After graduation from high school Deborah worked for two-and-a-half years at Job Service of Iowa, first as a typist and then as the operator of a word processor. She is now enrolled in a course conducted by Control Data Institute and plans to become a computer programmer.
Parents and teachers of blind children often have many questions as to just how to include a blind youngster in music lessons, chorus, band, etc. Deborah Caldbeck has shared her experience so that, as she puts it, "it will be easier for others who are just starting out."
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