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New software makes Braille sheet music more accessible

June 6, 1997

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Ruth Reaves used to take up to a month to copy a song into Braille, which meant her blind students would perform only about eight songs at their annual spring concert.

This spring, however, the 35-student band at the Alabama School for the Blind performed 20 songs. Each took about four hours to translate into Braille.

The difference? Software by Dancing Dots Braille Music Technology that translates computer music files into Braille.

``It’s just been like a godsend,″ said Ms. Reaves, who tested the software at the Talladega, Ala., school. ``This just opens up the world to these kids.″

At an introductory cost of $795, GOODFEEL is targeted at schools and volunteer services for the blind. It will be released June 29 at the National Federation for the Blind annual convention in New Orleans.

The software is the brainchild of Bill McCann, 38, a Philadelphia programmer and amateur trumpet player who is also blind.

``I kept waiting for someone to develop software to translate music into Braille, but nobody did,″ he said. ``So I decided, `Why not me?‴

His company created the program after nearly $600,000 in grants and five years of work. It relies on music-software staples _ Lime and MIDI _ to create, store and exchange scores on computer. The software also uses existing programs that store and edit Braille coding.

It can’t be used by blind people alone because they can’t proofread copy. McCann’s next project is an editing program that will proof, translate and print songs played into a computer.

For blind musicians, learning a new score is laborious, even when Braille music is available. Most read and memorize small parts of Braille, then practice and play each part before putting it all together.

``It would be a marvelous boon for a blind musician, because most of the time they have to wait around for someone who is willing to do it, and who has the time?″ said Helen Jenkins of Swarthmore, Pa., a music Braille translator for 12 years.

The Library of Congress, which owns the world’s largest Braille collection, circulates about 20,000 Braille musical titles out of the library’s total of 6 million musical pieces. The National Federation for the Blind said the wait for custom music orders is at least six months.

Braille translation, proofreading and printing takes about two weeks with GOODFEEL.

Former church organist David Simpson of Berwyn, Pa., often practiced three weeks for one church service, memorizing complicated classical scores. Often he practiced small parts with one hand on the keyboard and the other reading Braille.

To this frustration he added eight-hour days transcribing songs into Braille, either by listening to the music or with someone reading him the notes.

``GOODFEEL cannot make it easier to memorize the music,″ Simpson said. ``GOODFEEL can make more music available.″

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