Vision Quest features visually-impaired musicians

June 30, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Braille music notation has a completely independent and well-developed notation system with its own conversions and syntax. Most blind musicians cannot read it but they still make beautiful music.

Members of Chicago's Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired group Vision Quest are rehearsing for upcoming concerts. Nobody in the roup reads Braille music except for Director Victoria Johnson-Gore.

"Braille music takes time to learn. It's very, very difficult to learn because it's not similar to the Braille that you read every day," Johnson-Gore said. "You have to understand that in Braille music there's no base clef -- there's only treble clef that mostly deals with melody. At the top you got while notes then you have eighth notes then you have quarter notes then you have half notes at the bottom."

Vision Quest has been performing since the 1980s, says Director of Adult Day Services Robert Mantsh.

"Music from the 50s, 60s and 70s generally -- we do some theme music we've written some of our own music," Mantsh said.

To qualify for the group, members must have talent.

"We kind of mold and shape the talent into a group that can work together and a group that can present itself as professional musicians delivering professional performances," Mantsh said.

"We all learn by ear. We don't necessarily use the Braille music in this particular setting because of the facets of the material we learn and each band member is required to bring songs and materials to the ban to present for rehearsals," Johnson-Gore said.

Johnson-Gore says most performers who are blind don't always read Braille music.

"They don't really use Braille music until they've written something out of their head and they've put it on put it in adaptive Braille music or they may put it on a tape or a disk to remember the songs. So it depends on each person is different," Johnson-Gore said.

"Another facet of Braille music is that it's not dynamic in the sense that you can't sight read and play at the same time because you need one had free to read Braille," Mantsh said.

There is a computer program that transposes Braille music into the computer system but Johnson-Gore says it's only used for visually-impaired people.

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