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.
- Can you tell us about your musical background?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.