Vision Australia has enjoyed a long association with the National Braille Music Camp (NBMC), held each year in June at Frensham School, Mittagong.
Although it was a smaller camp than usual (around 55 people), this year was no exception, with several staff coming from Vision Australia Accessible Information Solution team in Parramatta to be part of the Camp.
Although the NBMC is an independent organisation, it embodies many values embraced by Vision Australia to facilitate people who are blind or have low vision to live the lives they choose. It is also an important professional and personal development for Vision Australia staff.
What is the NBMC?
Since inception in 1986, the NBMC has helped students who are blind and have low vision to learn braille music, provide a space to hone their skills and for many, help forge life-long friendships. For some of the younger campers, the NBMC is the first time they are away from home and learn to do things independently.
The camp is also a place for staff who are blind or have low vision to get mentorship and find opportunities to develop their professional skills such as performing, transcribing, teaching and music directing. For the sighted staff, it is a chance to observe the complex abilities and needs of children and adults who are blind or have low vision.
To make all this happen, the NBMC needs a lot of resources which, as a voluntary organisation, are hard to organise.
That’s where Vision Australia steps in, providing resources such as braillers, papers, embossing and printing facilities and staff time.
Peter Le, Christina Christensen and Ria Andriani assisted in the running of the camp this year.
Before the start of the NBMC, they prepared, embossed and bound the choir books.
Christina delivered the 37 braillers, embosser and all the choir books to Mittagong where the NBMC is held.
Through its Vision Australia connection, the NBMC also received support from the Mudford Fund to cover costs such as brailler repairs, scholarships for regional students and bus hire to assist students who travelled from Sydney Airport.
Teaching braille and independence skills
Braille is a key part of the NBMC and the fact that Vision Australia has several skilled music transcribers helped enormously.
Though absent from the NBMC, Jordie Howell assisted by transcribing vocal scores for the Senior Chamber Choir, one of the key groups that students and staff participate in.
Meanwhile, Ria and Peter prepared the files for the NBMC folders on the week leading up to the camp. This year’s song choices included an arrangement by one of the blind staff and co-director, Nelson Rufatt.
But the preparation and brailing doesn’t end when we leave the office.
During the camp, there has always been music to emboss, students to support with braille music and new songs to be transcribed. That’s why having a skilled music transcriber such as Christina and Peter’s knowledge of braille equipment helped the camp run smoothly.
Staff members taught students in one-on one setting, allowing them to know students’ needs and ability. It was also a chance to connect with secondary and tertiary students as well as their support teachers.
Singing and performing
Choir singing is a big part of the NBMC and is the main platform for students to learn braille music. This year, Ria helped to co-direct the choir by leading the soprano section and rehearsing with the whole group to prepare them for the final concert. It required some skills in teaching, singing and a great deal of fine-tuning. She had a lot of fun revealing to students musical concepts such as key signatures, time signatures and unusual braille signs by posing questions to them. The students were very responsive and engaged.
The NBMC culminated in the final concert, held on the last Friday night in the Clubbe Hall, Frensham. In this concert, the choir and other smaller groups performed all the pieces they’ve learnt during the week to a hall full of audience. Some of the bolder performers also performed solo items.
All in all, the 2019 annual NBMC was very successful, with contributions from Vision Australia playing a major role.
Interested in learning more about braille music? Or how other written material can be made accessible? Check out the work of our Print Access team here!