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Discussing Braille Music with Lifetime NLS Patron Linn Sorge, Part 1

Linn Sorge has been a NLS patron since she was in kindergarten some 60 years ago. I met Linn when I took “Braille Music Basics,” an excellent introductory online course to reading braille music offered through Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  In addition to being a teacher at Hadley, Linn is an active musician and a weaver.

  1. Can you tell us about your musical background?

Linn  at the piano wearing a scarf she wove.

I began taking piano lessons at age 6. My teacher was also blind so I began reading braille music right away. I attended a residential school for the blind and visually impaired in Wisconsin. There, I took several advanced music courses throughout high school such as music theory, music history, and arranging. We had so much fun creating arrangements for our school’s junior orchestra. The members of my theory classes had perfect pitch and could all “sight-read” braille music. So, it was fantastic to sing each other’s assignments. I took private instrument and piano lessons all through school while being involved in ensembles and music clubs.

I earned my undergrad degree in music education as a piano major and took voice lessons throughout college. My master’s degree is in teaching the blind and visually impaired. After graduate school, I worked as a coordinator for the university disability resource center for over 20 years while keeping up with my music activities. I directed a four-part recorder group for five years and taught private piano lessons out of my home. I began teaching at the Hadley Institute in 2000, and since 2010, have been teaching the braille music courses.

  1. What kind of people take the music braille courses offered through Hadley, and for what purpose?

Many students have only played by ear and are eager to learn to read braille music. One of my students had been singing in her adult church choir for over 35 years, not reading a note. She successfully completed all three of our braille music reading courses and now can learn her ensemble parts before the rehearsals begin by studying her braille score.

I also have had several high schoolers wanting to learn so they can be more independent in band or choir. A few years ago, I had a high school senior who was going to major in music, but had never read any music. He successfully completed the basic course and was ready to study music in college, reading well enough to take his private lessons, music theory and ensemble classes.

The professionals who take “Braille Music Basics” are often working with youngsters who want to start playing the recorder or a band instrument in elementary school. Most of the sighted students are already teachers or paraprofessionals working with students who are blind or visually impaired.

  1. Drawing from your own experience as a music teacher, why do you think braille music literacy is important? Please provide some examples.

When I was a child, I could play the piano very well by ear, but that did not allow me to learn more advanced classical music easily. As a braille music reader, when I sang with an ensemble, I loved being able to sight-read my parts and keep up with everyone else in the group. Subsequently, when I directed ensembles, having braille music allowed me to ask for specific starting points and more importantly, to give details about what I want the group to do at various points in the music.

  1. How difficult is it for a literary braille reader to learn music braille?

If you are a good braille reader and have musical instincts, it does not take very long to grasp the basic concepts of reading braille music. There are only seven notes to learn, along with the various rhythms and other symbols. Once you know the basics, you can start to use those skills to read whatever music you want to. Start out with easy reading and then build up to more complicated material.

Being able to play by ear (so that memorizing is easier to do once you play through something) and reading literary braille well definitely help with learning braille music.

Continued next week, September 14, 2017.

Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 2)

Last week, we detailed method books in the collection for wind instruments. This week, we are highlighting method books in our collection for string instruments and percussion, with some jazz method books thrown in for good measure! If there is anything here that could be useful to you or your student, please don’t hesitate to […]

Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 1)

Although for most of us it still feels like the middle of summer outside, it is time for many folks to begin thinking about back-to-school, and the new books and supplies for the year. That, of course, includes books for music classes, band, and orchestra. In the past, we’ve discussed books for college students, and […]

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Ernesto!

August 6 is the birthday of Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, who lived from 1895 to 1963. While some composers’ names might stir a vague recollection of some concert I attended, Lecuona brings to mind an indelible childhood memory. It happened on a Monday afternoon when I was five or six years old. I was lying […]

There’s No Song Like an Old Song

I’m always reminding myself how fortunate I am to live in an area that offers not only great classical music, theater and dance performances, but many popular music performers make a stop, especially during the summer. Being a child of the sixties, rock and roll concerts usually meant performances in smoky nightclubs (missed out on […]

Thinking About Learning Braille Music? Part II

Continued from last week While Bettye Krolick’s How to Read Braille Music: An Introduction is suitable for students who already know the basics of music and only need to learn how to decipher braille music symbols, Richard Taesch’s An Introduction to Music for the Blind Student is suitable for students who are just starting their […]

Thinking About Learning Braille Music? Part I

I always get excited when a patron requests a book on reading braille music because it means one more patron might be able to take advantage of our wonderful braille music collection. In my opinion, braille music readers have an edge over non-readers since they are able to explore and interpret the score themselves. In […]

The Soul of the Saxophone

In the space of just two weeks, musicians and music-lovers remember the life and death of two of the most famous saxophonists known to the world: Eric Dolphy, who passed away on June 29th, 1964 and Albert Ayler, who was born on July 13th, 1936. Each of them left an indelible mark on the world, […]

Connections: Participating in Pride Month

Recently on June 9th-10th, I had the pleasure to present some treasures at the recent “Pride in the Library: LGBTQ+ Voices in the Library of Congress Collections” exhibit. This was in the Jefferson Building and there was great interest in what was on display.  The attendance record (2,365 visitors over three days) illustrates the level of […]

It’s Summertime!

Now that the hockey season is officially over, there is only one major sport that is capturing the nation’s attention: baseball! I find that baseball is synonymous with summer, as it’s been played in the summer months for generations. I’m sure I’m not alone recalling warm summer evenings spent gathered around the radio listening to […]