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A Close- Up Look At People Who Matter : Teaching Blind Students to See With Music

March 14, 1996|ED BOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Richard Taesch tries to dispel the misconception that his blind music students can't see.

Once, when a student's parents did not understand, Taesch set them straight. "He sees because the mind is what sees," he told them. "The eye is just a medium."

His students see with their fingers.

Taesch, 53, of Newhall, is a music teacher at the Southern California Conservatory of Music in Sun Valley--his specialty is jazz guitar--and is one of only 75 Braille music transcribers in the country. It is a profession so rare that he was the only person to be certified as a transcriber in 1992.

Although Braille music predates Braille writing--Louis Braille was a blind organist--few blind musicians today know how to read music. Most play by ear and until recently have graduated from schools as music illiterates.

But within the past two years, Taesch, who is not blind, has found himself in demand. More blind music students are being required to learn Braille music, and Taesch is getting more requests for Braille transcriptions, most of which he does voluntarily.

Each week Taesch and Grant Horrocks, the chairman for piano at the conservatory, visit the Frances Blend School for the Visually Impaired in Los Angeles to teach Braille music to 8- to 12-year-old students. He also teaches at the Therapeutic Living Center for the Blind, an organization for the blind and mentally handicapped.

"Richard goes quietly about his work, 16 to 18 hours a day, teaching and transcribing music for his pupils," said Joyce Green, development director at the conservatory. "What is important to me is his patience in teaching these young people."

Taesch prefers teaching to performing. Teaching the blind to read music as early as possible not only better prepares them to pursue an advanced education but also opens up a world of possibilities for them, Taesch said.

"It's important for them to have those experiences of life that nothing else can give them," Taesch said. Learning to read music and play an instrument teaches discipline and exposes them to the arts, he said.

Taesch was recently named the state music specialist for the California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped. In this position, he runs workshops and writes articles on Braille music in an effort to promote the field and educate others.

The passion for music and his patience with students make him an outstanding teacher, according to Karol Schnaufer, a mental retardation professional at the Therapeutic Living Center for the Blind. For eight months, Taesch has taught piano to two of the center's clients.

"He knows they get distracted," Schnaufer said, "but he knows how to get them back on track."

The music may not have dramatically changed the clients' lives, but it has helped boost their moods, she said. "What he does for them and what the music does for them is give them a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that they can do something good for themselves," she said.

Finding someone like Taesch was not easy.

"Not too many people can do this," Schnaufer said. "In fact, I looked everywhere. He was the only person I found."

Personal Best is a weekly profile of an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Please send suggestions on prospective candidates to Personal Best, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax it to (818) 772-3338. Or e-mail it to valley@latimes.com.

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