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Three Decades of Braille, Part II

September 3, 2014


Three Decades of Braille, Part II


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



Could there be more to my lengthy braille tale which I shared last week?  Yes.  While most people would believe that the great majority of blind people are encouraged to learn braille, I kept finding roadblocks to the “Land of Dots.”  As you may remember, I wrote in my previous blog post about some of the obstacles which I had to overcome to learn literary (grade-two) braille.  Well, now I have a slightly shorter tale about my learning music braille.  During the early part of my three decades of braille, I tried to sign up for a course in braille music reading; however, the instructor would not accept me as a student because she thought that I did not have sufficient music theory in my background of music education.  Having shortly before learned grade-one and grade-two braille, I accepted this instructor’s proclamation because I had only taken piano lessons from age eight to age sixteen.  At sixteen, I halted my piano lessons because my teacher would no longer play the music for me when she assigned a piece to me.  Her supposition was that I was playing more by ear and less by reading the notes.  For whatever reasons, I never explained the situation to her:  although I knew how to read print music, the notes were literally dancing around on the staff.  The notes were moving in and out of my scotomas.  The dancing notes on the no longer straight lines of the music staff became not at all appealing to me, so I was playing the piano via memorization and ear.  Where was the Suzuki Method when I needed it?


Not only did I give up piano lessons, I gave up the Jack-and-Jill sundaes (chocolate syrup and marshmallow topping over vanilla ice cream) at Blake’s Drug Store (on Ninth Street, in Clinton, Indiana)–the treat which I enjoyed with my mother after many piano lessons.


Even though I continued to play the piano until recent years, I was never an accomplished pianist.  I just liked playing the music for myself–for my own enjoyment and relaxation.  In my living room, I still have the piano which my parents purchased in 1958 from a store in Paris–Paris, Illinois (located fifteen minutes from our Blanford home in  Indiana).  No other piano I have ever touched nor played has had the wonderful light touch of this piano.  When my parents bought the piano, it had been slightly used; nevertheless, their $700 investment was worthwhile.  After my sister and I sold our family home in 1999, the piano journeyed on Mayflower from the Hoosier Hills to Wisconsin.  It arrived with only a minor damage which I had repaired.  Someday, I hope that this piano will journey to Michigan so that my great-niece will be able to play it while her daddy (the one truly gifted musician of the extended family) accompanies her on the violin.  I hope I live long enough to hear this duet.  My wish is that this piano will remain in our family to create many hours and years of happy times and music.


For playing this family piano through my teen years, I went from reading regular print music to commercially-produced large-print music; then, thanks to the Music Section of the National Library Service, Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, I had access to very large-print music for a short while.  Sometime in the 1980s, I gave up on the very-large notes that were in music books that were wider than the rectangular bench of my piano.  When I was turned down for the braille music reading course, I turned to other interests; however, I always wondered why braille music was seemingly only for a more elite group of musicians while print music was for virtually all sighted individuals.


Decades later, I heard about another newly revised course in braille music through the Hadley School for the Blind (Winnetka, Illinois).  For this 14-lesson correspondence course, I was accepted and submitted my first lesson on November 12, 2012.  By about the third lesson, I was toying with the idea of giving up my goal to learn music braille because it was more challenging than I had ever expected.  Since I was retired and since I did not want to give up the goal too easily, I plodded on.  Amazingly, by the fourth or fifth lesson, all the rules and intricacies of music braille began to click in my head:  the too difficult of a challenge became a positive, stimulating, and enriching challenge.  Nevertheless, the work on each lesson and the time to prepare each assignment took longer than I initially expected.  Additionally, a few other happenings in my life prompted me to ask my very understanding instructor for a few extensions of due dates.  Finally, during the Polar Vortex of this past January, I set forth the New Year’s resolution that I would complete the Braille Music Reading course before the end of May.  On May 27 of this year, I e-mailed my fourteenth and final lesson to my instructor.  I was very pleased to achieve this goal and was ready to celebrate my receiving an A-plus for my months of effort.  For completing this course, the Hadley School sent me a braille-and-print certificate which I am considering framing and placing beside my braille transcriber’s certificate (detailed in my previous blog post).


Especially if Wisconsin has another harsh winter, my goal will be to review the entire Braille Music Reading course materials (three volumes of braille textbooks and a braille reference guide) before the spring thaw.  Then, perhaps, sometime later, I will enroll in one of the even newer braille music courses of Hadley.


Many thanks to the Hadley School for the Blind and to my excellent instructor Ms. Linn Sorge for making possible my meeting my goal of learning some braille music!  Being able to learn something so new and different during retirement years is refreshing.  What should I study next?


Enjoy some music today!

Alice and Zoe


September 3, 2014, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. How do you keep coming up with such great posts? Hats off, once again! I had the opportunity to take a few courses through the Hadley a couple years ago, and was quite pleased with the experience. I recommend their wide variety of learnings to anyone who is looking to enrich their lives with new information and experiences. I need to learn grade 2 Braille in the worst ways. In time, I hope to gain access to the world of Braille and all that it invites. Thanks for the trip through your musical past. dp

  2. If you took piano lessons from ages 8 to 16 and were reading print music, you should have had plenty of theory. What was that teacher’s problem, anyway? I’m glad you stuck with it and hope your knowledge of Braille music brings you many pleasurable years.

  3. Carole permalink

    This is another entry of “new” news! Congratulations, Alice, on achieving another New Year’s resolution! I think the sky is the limit and what a great idea for a family duet; but better yet–a family trio!

    • / I remember so many times when you played the organ. Now, I know that some of your musical talent has gone on to Jason. AZ


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