Highly Commended

"Braille Changed Me" --Singing Beethoven's 9th Symphony

Mr.Osamu Okawa (67)

I was a typical Japanese office worker until my mid-thirties when I lost my sight because of an illness.I am now completely blind.After leaving my company job,with a wife and two young children to support,I had to find alternative work,so I trained as a masseur and acupuncturist at the local blind school.That's where I first encountered Braille.

I attended Braille classes at the same time as the massage therapy classes.I am not so deft with my fingers,and at first,I had real trouble with Braille.As I persevered every day,stroking my left index finger over the characters,suddenly I could read them.It happened all at once.I was gently running the tip of my finger slowly from left to right,but it felt as though the Braille characters were running from right to left.I was happy.That was my door into the world of Braille.From that day,I got more and more accustomed to Braille and began to use Braille texts in my massage course studies.I sat my exams in Braille.I received my massage qualification when I graduated,had the house remodeled,and opened my own massage clinic.

Braille was especially useful in my work.I could make my own records for my patients,as well as other records and memos.One of the convenient points about Braille is that you can write on the Braille board,turn it over and read it with you fingertips.You can read while you are talking and listen while you are reading.You can't do that with audio cassettes.And there was more than just work and study.By mastering Braille,I could function independently in my daily life,and take part in society.Braille also came in useful for hobbies.

I really love classical music.CDs became available a few years after I lost my sight.Compared with records,CDs are much easier to use for people like me.I number the discs as I buy them,then get someone to read the sleeve notes for me so that I can make Braille notes of the tracks,musicians,etc.That means I can listen to my favorite music whenever I like.I can appreciate operas.Whether I listen to them on CD or go to a live performance,I can ask volunteers to get background information from the library and type it up for me on the computer.The computer translates the information into Braille so that I can read it while I'm listening.Over the years,I have built up quite a collection of operas.

I love singing,too.I have sung in choral groups for more than 10 years.First,I joined a small mixed voice chorus including both blind and sighted people.We met every second and fourth Sunday of the month and sang short lyrical pieces.I sing bass.I can't read Braille sheet music,but I have Braille cards for the words and learn the tunes by ear.

I still belong to that group,but after singing for about a year,I had the chance to sing Beethoven's 9th Symphony in 1989.As a commemorative event,our local government organized a choir of local people to sing this great work.It was my first encounter with the 9th Symphony so I was determined to take part in the event.We were to sing in German.I asked someone to copy out the bass part from the score and make a card of the words in Braille.This was done with the words written in the original language,not in Japanese phonetic script.Even the parts that were repeated were written out in full.Even with the effort involved and the unfamiliarity of a foreign language,I thought that if I took enough time,I could do it,and I practiced hard.We practiced once a week for four months,and I didn't miss one session.Finally,in October,the big day arrived.I was just one member of a huge choir standing on a bright stage in a big hall.When we finished together with the orchestra,my heart was thumping with emotion.I was 53 at the time.The fact that a blind man like me had been able to sing Beethoven's great work was attributed to Braille.Beethoven's 9th is the "Ode to Joy." Since then,I have taken part in a performance of this masterpiece somewhere or other every year,and I have made many friends this way.

As a kind of secondary effect of learning Braille,I have got to know a wide circle of local people.I have met many volunteers as well as elementary and junior high school pupils who do welfare work in their school activities.At one particular elementary school where I taught as a Braille teacher,I have stayed in touch with the children I got to know.I was invited back there for the school culture festival in autumn and end-of-year events.I have many happy memories of this experience.

Next year,I'll reach 70 and I'll have spent half my life without my eyesight,but the full life I have led since losing my sight is thanks to Braille.

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