I have to go back to the years I took piano through a teacher by the name of Phyllis Nesbit. Ms. Nesbit was herself totally blind; & it was through her, that I first learned how to read Braille music. Braille music is so different from print music. For one thing, in Braille, there's no bass or treble clef. In place of those things, a piece will have the time signature, as well as how many flats or sharps there are. From that information, we know what key the piece is in.
Braille, consists of six dots. There are special signs that would indicate whether a note or chord is a half, quarter, whole, or eighth note value. In Braille, there are something like 378 different signs, abbreviations, & contractions that have to be remembered. Another example of learning to use & rely on those things that we have.
Learning a piano piece by notation, was a slow & tedious process. People with sight, have an advantage; in that even if they had not seen a piece before, & are playing it for the first time, they can do so, without too much difficulty. That is called, sight reading. Obviously for someone who's blind, it would be difficult to play & read at the same time. The only way that I'm aware of where this could happen would be if an individual played a brass instrument. They could play with one hand, & read with the other. To learn piano music, we would have to learn so many measures of left hand, & so many measures of right. Then we would go back & put it together. We would do this, until the piece was learned. Then, we could go back & work out the mechanics; such as where to make it loud or soft.
By learning the notes, I got to learn all the keys; which came in very handy. I was fortunate, in that when the music teachers learned of my musical skill & ability, they encouraged me to continue down that path, & worked with me in making that skill, even better.
Besides taking piano, I was active in choir; as well as concert & marching bands. In band, I was a percussionist. I played either bass drum or cymbals in marching band. I was the tympani drum player in concert band. As for how we were able to march? We did that, marching shoulder to shoulder. There were whistle signals that indicated either left or right turns. Either the students who were sighted, or the band director, would tell us when to make those turns, when it was time to do so. most memorable parade I recall marching in, was my sophomore year in high school.
The year was 1967. We marched in the Lions International Parade, held in Chicago. What I remember most, is that we were in full uniform; & we marched five & a half miles down Michigan Avenue.
Some final thoughts about the school years, in my next installment.
Submitted by Gary Gjerstad