While most people associate Louis Braille with the system of reading and writing for the blind, many are not aware he was also an accomplished organist and musician. There is good evidence he created the Braille code for music first and language second. But whichever came first, the literary or the music code, we’re just grateful that such an efficient, organized system was developed and is still in use today. Having a system of notation in place guarantees future generations can study and enjoy the beauty of great music. Here are a few patrons of the Music Section who have been called to music and embraced braille music as performers and instructors.
Ayaka Isono, Paul Kurtz, Jessica Euell, Debra Saylor and Justin Kauflin are working musicians and educators, dedicated, practicing, and planning meticulously for their next presentation, whether it is a performance on the stage or an instructive lesson.
Choosing music as a career requires discipline, drive, passion and commitment. But the attraction to music is irresistible and these performers are a testament to that fact.
Ayaka Isono, piano instructor of blind and sighted students, regularly performs chamber music with San Francisco-Oakland area musicians, including members of the San Francisco Symphony. She plans recitals far in advance, and in the event a Braille score is not available, either requests it to be transcribed or borrows it from the NLS Music Section.
Our NLS colleague Erica Vaughns interviewed Ms. Isono for the NLS News last year.
Paul Kurtz focuses on jazz and has commissioned many standard trumpet method books to be transcribed into braille music, so (as he put it) visually impaired up and coming trumpeters have the same resources compared to their sighted counterparts. According to his bio from the International Trumpet Guild, he takes various freelance gigs ranging from weddings, party boats, small and large churches and community bands. We’ve enjoyed having Mr. Kurtz’s guidance as we add to the collection for future trumpeters.
Jessica Ewell is a busy soprano and Assistant Professor of Music at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. She recently graduated from Catholic University with a doctorate in musical arts, and earned a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory. Her undergraduate degrees are in music and foreign languages from the University of New Mexico. In performance, her most recent accomplishment (2013) is winning the University of Toldeo’s Art Song Festival Competition with her recital “Within Spanish Borders.” Check out her website to see what’s up next for this go-getter.
Justin Kauflin was recently featured on the NLS Music Notes blog, Quincy Jones and Who? He has accomplished a great deal for a twenty-something musician. His musical training began at a very young age ( two!) but he gravitated toward jazz in high school and has a Music/Jazz Performance degree from William Paterson University, a debut CD (Introducing Justin Kauflin) and is featured in a documentary about his mentor, Clark Terry, entitled Keep On Keepin’ On. He has been an active patron of the Music Section’s library since 1999. We look forward to hearing Justin in his debut at the Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress on October 22, 2014.
Debra Saylor teaches voice and piano to blind and sighted children. She passed a series of rounds for the Van Cliburn (Amateur division) International Piano Competition in 2000, placing third overall and was awarded “best performance” from the Romantic Era. She also participated in the Cliburn again in 2002, and won a Judges’ Discretionary Award in 2011. She has a very active studio at the Ars Nova School of the Arts in Huntsville, Alabama, and performs in Huntsville and the surrounding area. Debra helps us to connect with blind/low vision students from her studio who want to learn braille music.
Music, as a channel for expression and communication, touches all people. And it will use whatever means necessary to make a connection. For staff here at the NLS Music Section, it is deeply gratifying to be an attendant to the process of learning, accomplishment, and performance for our patrons.