The European Economic Community is to be commended for forming and supporting a work group whose objective is centered on the needs of blind musicians. The EEC is especially concerned about the creation of computer aids that will, among other things, transcribe musical scores into Braille, produce printed musical texts by the blind themselves, etc.
Problems Concerning Music for the Blind
A very worthwhile initiative
The European Economic Community is to be commended for forming and supporting a work group whose objective is centered on the needs of blind musicians. The EEC is especially concerned about the creation of computer aids that will, among other things, transcribe musical scores into Braille, produce printed musical texts by the blind themselves, etc. It is encouraging also to see that this initiative has resulted in the coming together of the interest, the energy, and the competence of everyone involved.
I am especially grateful to the organizers of this workshop for having associated Canada to this movement, a movement that seeks to increase the resources which could benefit blind musicians everywhere.
The production of Braille music texts in Canada
I am very enthusiastic first, about a project concerning the development of software for the transcription of music scores into Braille, and secondly, about the fact that these workshops will result in a pooling of ideas, information, and experiments.
Nothing has yet been done in Canada in spite of the fact that blind musicians no longer have access to a specific music transcription service, a service which was readily available for several years in the past.
Until recently a team of experienced transcribers worked full time producing music scores in Braille within the framework of a service organized in Montreal by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). This service was able to answer at a reasonable cost to all the requests in Canada. Transcriptions were done in the tradional manner with the help of the brailler.
This regular service has been altered since the transcription service at the CNIB is now done by five volunteers. The CNIB sees to the training of these volunteers (this training is often done through correspondence courses) and exacts from each a minimum of fifteen hours of work per week. These volunteers work either with the Perkins brailler or with a micro computer. In this last case, the programs used are the Edit for Apple computers and the Micro‑Braille for IBM.
The Institut Nazareth et Louis‑Braille (INLB), a Quebec organism for the readaptation of the visually handicapped has, among its services, a center for the production of braille material, of which an important part concerns didactic material. This production center is equiped with a N.C.R. (National Cash Register) computer, model Tower 32‑600. The terminals used have a braille keyboard with which the input (whether it be musical or alphabetical) is effected. The braille characters that appear on the screen are treated by means of a word processor.
Despite very sophisticated equipment which allows both for storing and text modification, the transcription of musical material is basically similar to the traditional method and demands of the transcribers a complete mastering of musical notations in print and in braille. Of the transcribers employed by the Institut Nazareth et Louis‑Braille (INLB) only three are proficient in the transcription of scores, but none are employed at this particular task full time. This results in enormous production delays, and furthermore, the costs to the users are extrememely high.
In short, in Canada today there is no organism that provides a specific and regular service of musical transcription in Braille. Therefore, the amateur or professional blind musicians finds that the access to a score in Braille which is not found in a library, more of a problem than ever before.
The creation of braille transcription software for printed scores would certainly help to alleviate, at least in the short term, the pressures of the service and possibly contribute to simplifying an operation which up to now demands a double specialization of which very few individuals are capable.
The standardization of braille music notations
The present workshop seems to indicate a willingness to combine various efforts in this field and to arrive at some concrete production in the future.
However, in order to be able to join these efforts, the standardization of musical symbols is really a preliminary step. It seems evident to me that members of our group, or persons who may be associated with it, should work specifically in that direction.
The success of this normalization procedure, besides simplifying the understanding of the scores by the users in various countries, would enrich the proposed software, and would help its distribution as well as that of the scores produced.
The user would naturally be the winner and, after all, is not the user precisely the one that the project seeks to serve?
Once again, it seems to me important to repeat that the access to information (including musical information) is so full of constraints for the users of Braille that all repetitions and dispersal of energy should be avoided.
In order to test a musical transcription software program, it would no doubt be useful to provide the programmer with musical examples of a gradually increasing complexity. Perhaps then a person or a group of persons could select such a repertory of examples. This step would help the programmer of the software to define with precision the type of musical scores of which the transcription could be insured effectively at the various stages of its development. Because of the very varied nature of the scores to be transcribed it would seem that it may be impossible at first to work with highly complex musical texts.
An information and communications network
The organization of an information and communications network, not only between organisms but between countries, could already be among the interests and projects of our workshop. That way the users would more quickly become familiar with the nature of the available material. This service specifically destined to blind musicians could very likely be integrated into a much larger communications network of a supranational type for example.
Towards this end, the computarization and the updating of the index of musical scores already constituted in various countries is not only a need but a matter urgency. Naturally, this computarization of the various collections should evidently be joined first with a communications network allowing access to this information and, secondly, with a distribution system which would make the scores available. Such a communications and information network would increase the effectiveness of the distribution of the material produced by means of the musical transcription software. It would also contribute to the improvement of the quantity of equipment available and facilitate its accessibility.
The Production of music sheets by a blind person
If the creation of software for the transcription of musical scores into braille is desirable and is already being experimented in a few rare places, what happens to the reverse operation, that is the creation of software that would enable a blind person to produce a musical text in print?
Students and performers (both amateur and professional) need scores in braille and an increase in the production of material with high standards of quality. This need is recognized and has traditionally been satisfied, although the vulnerability of the service is increasing. The software
for transcription in Braille is more and more necessary and is of course an evolution and a sophistication of a service that benefits, although to a variable degree, the blind person.
- that would allow visually handicapped music students to prepare unassisted a printed version of their work,
- that would allow blind teachers to write unassisted music texts for their seeing students,
- that would allow blind composers to produce their work in print,
would not only be improvement of a service, but would also make accessible a process that no organism, in Canada at least, has ever provided.
There are then two aspects to the double need facing the blind musicians: first the production of software for transcription into braille and secondly the production of software for transcription of braille into print. It is these two aspects that I wish to present to researchers. The creation of these two types of software tools would increase the autonomy of the blind person and would thus coincide with the aims of society with regard to the visually handicapped.
Why not didactic software?
In Canada, as in several other countries, handicapped students are more and more integrated into regular classes. Since the musical notation system in braille is completely different from the printed notation system, the student using braille is faced with serious difficulties. First of all, he is not always in contact with someone who knows the printed notation musical system, and very rarely in contact with a person who is familiar with the Braille notation system. Therefore, would it not be time to begin a feasability study of a didactic software package allowing students to learn the braille musical notation system thanks to the computer? Perhaps, I should mention that in Quebec the VersaBraille equipment is widely used among the blind and would be compatible with such software. Naturally, such software package could be used with other equipment also.
I have indicated three avenues for research concerning solutions to the problems facing blind musicians:
- software for musical transcription in Braille,
- software for the production of printed musical texts from braille material,
- didactic software for a musical notation system.
Each of these three avenues corresponds to the needs of blind musicians.
It is hoped that these musicians will have at their disposal in the foreseeable future new tools which would contribute to the reduction of the limits that they must now face.
With these aims in mind such workshops as this should be renewed since they allow for a sharing of projects and experiments and most certainly they serve as a stimulus for everyone and for the countries involved.
I wish to assure the organizers of this workshop, the participants and the European Economic Community of my collaboration and the collaboration of Canada in this field of increased access to musical material for the blind.
Nicole Trudeau Ph.D.
Article publié dans :
Concerted Action on Technology and Blindness Medical & Health Programme of the European Community / Harcopy Materials for Music, Workshop, Toulouse, September 26-27 1988 / Editor: M. Truquet / Printed by Technical Development Department, Royal National Institute for the Blind, London / April 1989 / pp. 4 to 7 / Nicole Trudeau Ph.D. / Problems Concerning Music for the Blind.
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