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Braille Music Transcribers

Transcribers. Where would we be without them?

All of us who provide braille music, or who need and use braille music, are indebted to the labors of braille music transcribers.

So how do you become a music transcriber? (Hint: We need more.)

The first step is to take and pass the literary braille course, offered by the Library of Congress through the National Federation of the Blind. There are, after all, many words in music: allegro, langsam, the titles to pieces, introductory notes, footnotes, publishers’ commentaries, and so on. When passed, you become a certified literary braille transcriber.

Then, and only then, you can embark on the music braille transcription course. All music transcribers have a music background of one sort or another. They play an instrument; maybe more than one. They have taken music courses in college, or have earned music degrees. Any of these, or any combination of them will work. How long the course takes depends on your music background, your zeal, and how much time you have to devote to it.

Transcribers live all around the country and often work in solitary fashion, though there are avenues for meeting and talking with their peers: the MENVI listserv (Music Education Network for the Visually Impaired), and meetings of the National Braille Association, which has a music committee, and meets twice a year, for example.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with three fairly new transcribers and Dr. Karen Gearreald, who is the instructor in the braille music transcribing course that leads to certification by the Library of Congress.

They got together in Norfolk, VA. Karen has been a braille music reader for many years, and whose abilities at the keyboard and with her voice are enviable (speaking for myself). Tina Davidson, from Maryland, although a guitar specialist, has been transcribing music for nearly every instrument for about five years. Kathleen Cantrell has been transcribing for more than four years and is an active soprano in the New York City area. Patrick Janson, who sings and plays the piano, is an active singer, especially in musical theater, currently in Cleveland. Patrick is a full-time transcriber who has been working for a little over two years.


Photo of music transcribers, left to right. Kathleen Cantrell, Tina Davidson, Karen Gearreald (Yankee fan), Patrick Janson.

Photo of music transcribers, left to right. Kathleen Cantrell, Tina Davidson, Karen Gearreald (Yankee fan), Patrick Janson.


Their meeting served several purposes. In the work sessions, they discussed thorny questions that had come up in the course of transcribing music. Not everything that you can find in print music will be addressed by a braille music manual, however good. “Just how do you transcribe that. . . . .?” And so there is the need to collaborate, discuss, and think creatively.


Photo of Tina, Patrick, Karen, and Kathleen discussing braille music issues.

Photo of Tina, Patrick, Karen, and Kathleen discussing braille music issues.


One of several music-making sessions included a piano vocal rendition of “The Music of the Night,” even though it was only Friday afternoon. From Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.


Photo of Karen, at one piano, singing, Tina, Kathleen singing, and Patrick at the other piano, also singing.

Photo of Karen, at one piano, singing, Tina, Kathleen singing, and Patrick at the other piano, also singing.


Other sessions and topics included new and upcoming developments in braille music transcription. One was the newly adopted Unified English Braille (UEB), which changes and affects English in braille, whether literary or music. Another was the imminent release of a new revision of the music braille code, authorized by the Braille Authority of North America.  The last code revision was from 1997.  Use of technology and particular software programs for braille was also on the agenda. And finally, they discussed plans to revise the textbook for music braille certification: Introduction to Braille Music Transcription. This is available from NLS in print and braille. Although it dates only back to 2005, revision is needed because of the developments of UEB and the revised music code.

The grand meeting still held more music making, good food, and friendly discussions than I can recount here. All of it part of the great service of providing braille music for all who need and want it. Consider joining them.

For any reader who might be interested in contacting Kathleen, Tina, Patrick, or any other certified music transcriber, here are two links to a complete list of certified transcribers. One is in html, and the other is in electronic braille.  Please do!

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