Section 3: Celebrating the First Six Years: A Tour in Words and Pictures of the Original Program in Bridgeport

Picture: Braille music, two students study with their teacher.

Picture: Students with canes walking across campus.

Two ideas came together in forming the Summer Institute: One, of course, was to provide classes in braille music, technology and other skills along with other music activities; the other was to have a program taking place on a college campus, so students could have the opportunity to put the mobility and independence skills they had already learned to real use in a setting similar to what they would find in college. There have been music programs, and several states provide summer college experiences. To our knowledge, the Summer Institute was the first program in the country to that combine both these ideas. During the first six years, the program attracted high school sophomores and juniors, and became a combination school, camp and family. It was never meant to teach mobility and independence skills. But the mere fact that it gave them the opportunity to use them inspired new confidence and a sense of readiness for the challenges ahead.

Very important was, and still is the social experience of being among others like themselves. For once, there was no need to win one's way to acceptance. From the beginning, the students spent all their spare time talking and sharing experiences. More than eleven years since the first program, many of the original participants are stilll visiting and talking on the phone with each other, mentoring younger students, and talk of a reunion. June 2006 saw the marriage of two 1997 students.

Although our present version of the program has become a one-week intensive for older students and no longer features ensembles and field trips, the one-on-one attention and family atmosphere persists. Using excerpts from previous brochures, We celebrate our past and hope you will read on to find the essence that continues today.


Braille music

Picture: Braille music class.

The scarcity of trained teachers of braille music, as well as a lack of awareness of its importance, has prevented many students from mastering this skill at home. With the ability to read and write music themselves, students can handle sight-singing exercises, analyze music in theory class, and learn a piece directly, not influenced by someone else's interpretation. Braille music is challenging, but can be mastered with day-to-day practice over a long period of time. At the former three-week program, as they do now, students work in pairs or individually with a teacher at whatever pace is needed to become more comfortable with the process of music reading. By the end of the program they have learned enough braille music to start reading parts for their instruments and to continue their study at home.


Picture: Sight sing and theory class.

A key aspect of being able to interpret what one is reading in braille or to enter music into the computer is to have strong foundations in theory. Many of our students, who have learned by ear, are in particular need of help with rhythm concepts. At the former three-week program, In a group class that came to be called Touch-and-Sing, students practiced exercises dealing with different rhythmic values, sight sang together from braille parts, practiced taking down dictation in braille, and learned about the print music staff.


Picture: Technology classes.

Picture: Students working on computers and midi keyboard.

The computer has become an essential tool for all aspects of the music field, and it is a tremendous source of fun and creativity for our students. Our main emphasis at the Institute is placed on teaching ways students can enter their theory assignments into the computer so that they can print them out for submission to sighted teachers. Programs used include Cakewalk and Caketalking, which can convert music into staff notation, and the GOODFEEL Braille Music Translator which will produce the same work in braille.

Students are also shown how to produce multi-part arrangements both with keyboards that can be made to sound like just about any instrument, and to use digital audio to add voice parts. Along with this, computer teachers will work with students individually on anything they need help with in using the computer for other school subjects. This may include uploading files from their note takers to the computer and using the Internet for research. Recently, braille music has become available on the Web. Students learn how to make use of this and also to locate braille music in libraries worldwide.


Picture: Jazz ensemble 1998.

Picture: Jazz ensemble 2000.

Picture: Voice ensemble.

Picture: Chamber ensemble.

Picture: Voice rehearsal.

Picture: Voice ensemble "make a riff."

For many Institute students, playing in an ensemble is a first-time and exhilarating experience. In the former three-week program, students learned to combine their various talents into a group performance, and learned strategies for working with
other musicians. Most summers, two public concerts were given, one for children attending other camps sponsored by the Music and Arts Center, and another evening concerts which brought the students' most interested audience -- the people whose contributions had provided scholarships. For the first few years, ensembles were mainly jazz, as it was felt this would
be the easiest way to get students with different levels of ability playing quickly together. Later programs have had a voice and chamber ensemble.

Picture: Piano lesson.

Picture: Dance/movement workshop.

Individual Coaching and Group workshops. As much as time permitted during the three-week program, students could take private lessons and can arrange to work with teachers in the community. In
addition to receiving concrete suggestions on areas for improvement, students
were comfortable enough do discuss openly concerns about deportment and appearance on stage.
creative movement workshops have been held to help students with their
confidence and poise in their performance space. Often these workshops were conducted by blind professional musicians, such as Laurel Jean Walden, and sighted dance teachers.


Planning for the Future. In an atmosphere where many of the teachers are professionals in their field who are blind, students can measure themselves and hone their goals against the realistic examples of people who had found ways to enter the field before them. During the three-week program, arrangements were often made for participants to go backstage at concerts, and visit with people in careers ranging from a studio composer to a music therapist. They received advice, encouragement and a
better sense of the realities of the world of music.

Picture: Campus travel.

Campus Living. Students polish their campus living skills by being in a setting where they practice them daily. They travel on their own between buildings, negotiate cafeteria lines and learn how to handle other aspects of college life.

Picture: Students with intern.

Picture: Music board for learning staff layout.

We are grateful to all the interns and volunteers who have been there to help whenever needed. Several of the interns are college students, and some are older but young at heart. . Many of our college interns have come from the Princeton Project 55 program, which places its students with nonprofit organizations for a summer experience or full-year fellowship. Volunteers Now, many students from Agnes Scott college and people from the Atlanta community are continuing the tradition have helped in many ways. Betty Schwab of New York constructed a metal, raised-line board with magnetic music shapes, which we use to teach students the layout of print music.

Dorm Life

Picture: Dorm life, practicing the flute on the stairs.

Picture: Dorm life jam session.

Picture: Dorm life, braille library in the dorm.

The excitement of the ensemble and practicing for the concerts carried into the dorm. During the three-week program, music emanated from the living rooms, bedrooms, halls, and stairs. A trademark of the dorm during the three-week program is a computer room and library with a bookcase filled with braille books and magazines about music and a variety of other topics.

Summer Life

Picture: Summer picnic overlooking Long Island Sound.

Picture: Students at play climbing a tree.

Every effort was made to find ways for the young people to enjoy the activities summer could provide. Field trips were taken evenings and weekends to outdoor concerts and the beach. Swimming, tandem bicycle rides, cookouts, and impromptu jam sessions outdoors are a part of the memories students took with them of a full summer experience.

Picture: Pamela Durant, braille music Consultant.

Picture: Kay Paulsen, Georgia Program director.

Thanks, where thanks are due. We talk about the students who have come from all over the country and around the world, but so have our teachers, and the program would be nothing without them. We look for people who have expertise in their field and the ability to teach it. Since the pool is so small, staff have come from as many states as the students. Our Braille music teacher, Pamela Durant, and her husband John helped five years running with planning, coordinating, teaching and as house parents. Kay Paulsen came from Georgia because she wanted to learn how to continue working with her student when the program ended. Melissa Keys, who was a student in 1997, now is one of our principal teachers. artists in residence have come from Ohio, Michigan, Texas, California, and Illinois, not to mention interns from Alabama, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and New York. To all, who have come from the next town over or from far away, we give our heart-felt thanks.

The Summer Institute was started at the request of parents seeking a way for their pre-college students to learn necessary skills and gain the confidence that comes from living and working with others as a fully accepted part of a group. Students are charged tuition, but this is only a fraction of what the program actually costs. The balance is made up through fund raising. Each year we look to the generous support of individuals and foundations to make up the short-fall and to provide scholarship assistance to those who qualify.

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