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From the Collection: “The R.N.C. Staff Notation Teacher”

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I had stumbled upon this nifty little book a few weeks ago, and thought it deserved a profile. The first thing that drew me to it was its size. Compared to most of the braille books in our music collection it is tiny: only measuring 5.5 by 7 inches! What possibly could this tiny book contain?

A photo of the RNC Staff Notation Teacher. With a normal sized braille book for comparison.
A photo of the RNC Staff Notation Teacher. With a normal sized braille book for comparison.

Well…according to its foreword:

“The staff notation teacher is a simple system, by means of which, it is hoped that the blind musician will be helped in his task of teaching sighted pupils.”

It’s a pocket-sized book intended for blind music teachers to teach sighted students basic musical notation. This book was written and devised by J. Eric Hunt, who was then the director of music at the Royal Normal College for the Blind (now the Royal National College for the Blind) in Hereford, Great Britain. He also wrote and arranged choir music.

A second interesting feature of this miniature book is the flash cards. These cards contain print notation on them for the sighted student, with braille guide numbers for the teacher. This corresponds to a section in the book that shows in music braille what is written in print.

A photo of the pocket that holds the flash cards.
A photo of the pocket that holds the flash cards.

This book displays musical notation beginning with middle C on the grand staff all the way up to more complex musical notation. The foreword states that the last section “contains a few signs, which, though not needed at the outset, will appear before the pupil has traveled very far—slurs, tie, staccato, some ornaments, and the pedal-sign.” It is generally intended for piano teachers. However students of all instruments will be able to learn the basics of music with this system.

A photo of the back and front of two different flash cards. The one on the left shows the back with braille. The one on the right shows print music notation.
A photo of the back and front of two different flash cards. The one on the left shows the back with braille. The one on the right shows print music notation.

The interesting predicament now is how do we go about digitally preserving this item? We have a way to digitize the braille (which you can read more about here). But what are some ways we can preserve the flash cards? They pose multiple challenges due to their unique size and construction, and the fact that they technically are two media: braille and print. If you have some good suggestions, let us know!

We intend to explore this question, and many more like it, as we forge ahead with digitizing our collection.

If you’re interested in borrowing the R.N.C Staff Notation Teacher (BRM09583), please get in contact with us!

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