By Susie Stageberg
It’s that time of year again: the nights are longer and cooler; Iowa and Iowa State square off for their annual football showdown; the kids are back at school. In the Stageberg household, singing season has begun.
My husband Paul and I sing in two choral groups: our church choir and a community-based chamber choir whose members must audition to get in. The church choir sings at least one piece every Sunday. The chamber choir gives at least two concerts per year, often more. All this adds up to a lot of music to be learned. Both these groups move at a pretty rapid pace, so there’s not a lot of time spent going over and over notes, which might allow me to learn my part by listening.
When I was 12 years old I began studying with a wonderful lady named Bettye Krolick, who taught me how to read Braille music notation. In fact, I was the first person she ever taught to read Braille music. Mrs. Krolick went on to become an internationally known expert on the subject, and she wrote at least one book on the Braille music code. Being able to read (and write) Braille music has made it possible for me to participate in both choirs along with the sighted singers. In fact, in the church choir I am the leader of my section. My responsibility as section leader is to know the music before the rehearsal so that the others can follow my lead.
There is a collection of Braille music housed at the Library of Congress inWashington. Occasionally, I have been able to borrow a copy of a piece I need to learn. Most of the time, though, I make my own. Paul dictates the music to me and I write it down using a Braille notetaker, a Perkins Brailler, or a slate and stylus. Over the years, Paul and I have developed a system of shortcuts; my notes make sense to me, but perhaps not to someone else. Since they only need to make sense to me, it works out well. Of course, “the great dictator” as we laughingly call Paul, has become a highly efficient communicator of the information on the page. We can transcribe the average Sunday morning anthem in under half an hour. My singing life would certainly be harder without him to dictate, but I imagine I’d find, and train, somebody else, just as I would train a sighted reader to read mail or other print documents. And once the piece is transcribed, it’s up to me to learn it and make music out of it.
Paul and I enjoy our singing life. It’s the main common interest we have outside of house and kids. The experience of making music with a group of people takes us away from the everyday, sometimes frustrating world of jobs and bills and groceries, and lets us have just a peek at Heaven.