Musical Braille

[This article was originally published on July 31, 1974 in the Mill Valley Record. Article written by Gina Brewer. Transcribed by Jonellen (Chandler) Goddard. Copy of the original article in the possession of Marie (Chandler) Gale (2018).]

Most people consider themselves fortunate if they are able to master one or two things they like to do.  Others would like to lead a long and active life, and perhaps gain some wisdom along the way.  Sibyl Schneller has gone to extremes.

“I started learning to transcribe braille 11 years ago, when I was 75,” she said the other day from her sunny room at the Redwood Retirement Residence.  “I average now four hours a day on braille.”  Other people would consider it a feat to learn to transcribe braille, but Mrs. Schneller not only transcribes text, but music compositions as well.

She is an accomplished musician.  For 17 years she taught music at San Jose State College (now University).  She also is a charter member of the music sorority at San Jose Mu Phi Epsilon.  A book of her poems was recently published and dedicated to the sorority. Most of the poems had appeared previously in publications including The Saturday Review and Anthology of California Poets.The book, A Square Inch of Space, is available at the Redwood Book Store in Mill Valley.  All sales benefit the scholarship fund of the San Francisco Chapter of Mu Phi Epsilon.

In her spare time Mrs.  Schneller does needlework, duplicating, in some cases, great works of art, such as the elaborate unicorn tapestry which hangs in the Redwood’s lobby.  She began needlework in the 1920’s and thought she invented the stitch which is really half of a cross stitch.  “Somebody told me that’s needlepoint,” she said.

She is a fan of Edgar Cayce who writes about psychic phenomena and belongs to a study group and meets at the Mill Valley library.

Mrs. Schneller got interested in braille when she met Rose Resnick, president of the California League for the Handicapped, through the music sorority, and she said there was a need for music transcribers. “The sorority purchased the machine through Blue Chip stamps,” noted Mrs. Schneller.  “I transcribe braille for anyone who wants it.”  She is a member of an organization called the Transcribing Mariners.  Her poetry book has been transcribed.

Additional copies of braille books can be made from the master, she noted as she displayed the large pages covered with “bumps” or dots.  The underside is often shellacked to make the dots solid so they last longer.  Mrs. Schneller said she can read the dots by looking at them but not by touch.  “My hands are not sensitive enough.”

Mrs. Schneller was born in Michigan, raised in northern California and moved to Mill Valley from San Jose  over twenty years ago, settling in Tam Valley where she played piano for the Methodist Church.

She has written poetry about 50 years and began reading it to her sorority when they decided to make the book a project.  “I picked out the ones I would be willing to see in print and I asked my daughters,” she said.  “I think everyone can write poetry, but they won’t take the time to polish it.’

As for wisdom, several of her poems reflect on what she has learned over the years.  “All of a sudden a platitude comes alive,” she said.  Basically, she says it’s taken her a long time to learn it’s best to be flexible as this short poem shows, which she wrote recently in honor of a special occasion at the retirement center:

Throughout a life of grinds and bumps,
I could have spared myself some lumps;
If I had earlier learned to say,
“you may be right.  I’ll try your way.”

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