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Ron Bayfield on transcribing organ music into Braille


Ron Bayfield with his brailling equipment

Ron Bayfield at the organ

Ron Bayfield

David Aprahamian Liddle writes:

I would like to introduce a friend, Ronald Bayfield, who has enabled me to add not only church music, but also some major organ works to my repertoire. It takes a very special kind of perfectionism and application for a sighted person to conquer the challenges of Braille music. Ron’s story illustrates his great technical experience and systematic mind-set, combined with a sense of humour and an apetite to learn.

Ron Bayfield describes his musical beginnings

I started to learn to play the organ when I was 17 after watching a woman practising in Brighton Parish Church. I thought “if a woman can do it it must be easier than I thought” and started to have lessons with the parish church organist. I did not meet the lady who had unknowingly been responsible for my taking up the organ until about 40 years later.

My first organ teacher was Thomas Hallford. He used Stainer’s organ tutor. He got his Durham D.Mus and went to Llandaff Cathedral before I had had many lessons. There is a sad postscript to this part of my narrative. He was in the army during the war and married an Italian girl. I never met her but I did speak to her on the phone. After they moved to Llandaff I heard that his wife had died. He was devastated and was found lying on her grave and died. I would guess he was in his 40’s. He was a Yorkshireman and knew Bairstow; he is mentioned in the Bairstow biography. I believe there were some children, but cannot be sure.

Engineering career

I worked for the Post Office (later BT) as an engineer and was awarded a scholarship to study for a B.Sc on full pay for four years when I was 31. I worked on submarine cable development in London and later became Area Engineer in the Brighton Area and retired as a Deputy Controller in the South East Region, taking early retirement in 1984 at the age of 53.

Music in the RAF

I did national service in the RAF teaching radio engineering at Yatesbury, near Calne, Wiltshire, where there was a 5-manual Conacher organ on which I practised. There were two other organists on the camp and one of them, Alex Fawcett, later became Assistant County Musical Adviser for Staffordshire.

While we were at Yatesbury he taught me to sing at sight, a skill I had never acquired as I had only been a treble in the local choir at home and learnt all the hymns parrot fashion. I have always been grateful to him for teaching me because it led to a lifetime of pleasure singing in choirs. Michael Fleming recruited me as one of the aboriginal members of the RSCM Nicholson Singers. I stayed with them until they were dissolved when he retired. We were an adult mixed choir and sang Evensong at about five cathedrals a year. We only rehearsed together on the day as the members came from all over south east England so we had no weekly choir practices and one had to be a good sight reader to join.

Church Organist work

My organ posts were all in Brighton except the last: The Church of the Nativity, a converted barn where I had to play the piano. St Wilfrid’s, built in the 1930’s with a 3-manual pipe organ. The church had to close because one of the deputising organists, who was a chemist by profession, pointed out that the under side of the roof was clad with grey asbestos to improve the acoustics. The building has now been converted into flats, but a Feibusch mural has been retained. The organ is now in St Alban’s church. St Martin’s, (now St Martin with St Wilfrid), a 3-manual Hill tracker which was on the cover of one of the BIOS annuals. A former organist (Thomas Church Saxby) used to bet visiting organists 5 shillings (a good sum in those days) that they could not play a verse of an 8-line hymn on full organ because the action was so heavy. He told me he never lost. One of his challengers was Vaughan Williams. Saxby lived to be 103 and was still playing in his 90’s, but not at St Martin’s. He once caught a thief in the vestry when he went down during the sermon. The thief ran off but Saxby hailed a hansom cab, caught up with him, made a citizen’s arrest, handed him over to the constabulary and got back to the organ in time for the next hymn.
St Andrew’s, West Tarring, Worthing, an unexceptional 2-manual Morgan & Smith but with a good mixed choir. There was a Director of Music and two organists, one of whom was his wife and I was the other. We took turns at playing and whoever was not playing sang in the choir. We had a week-long stay at a cathedral every two years and in this way I have been able to play at Worcester (two non-consecutive years), Ely and Exeter plus one-day visits to Guildford and Portsmouth. The other musicians moved to another parish in 2001. After they left I resigned too (not immediately but because I had reached 70), but I still play somewhere most Sunday mornings because there is such a shortage of regular organists. The current Director of Music is John Wardle, the RSCM Gauleiter for the south. When I am not deputising somewhere I sing in the choir to support my daughter, who is an alto in the choir. I had such a generous parting gift from the parish when I retired that I said I would not play there again for money in case the natives thought that I should not get paid after my golden handshake. The choir gave me a very handsome cut glass urine bottle.

Increasing French influences

I only did French at O level at school but did not keep it up. During my national service I saw the Charles Laughton version of the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and thought it was such a good story that I would read the book. The sergeant at the camp library said he had it, but only in French. I said “I’ll take it” and read it in 5 days. This improved my vocabulary. The next was a week spent in Paris in 1953 as part of an exchange between British and French Post Office people. As I was one of the few who spoke French I sat next to a Frenchman in the coach for the whole week and had to speak French all the time. I remember when I got back to England I had difficulty in understanding the porters at Newhaven station. The third influence was a visit to the tribune in Notre Dame when Cochereau was playing. I got talking to a man who I assumed was French, but he was English. This didn’t come to light until I said I was an organist in England. He had been in France during the war and lived in the part under the Vichy regime. He had known Vierne and was one of the people who subscribed to the publication of “Mes Souvenirs”; his name is in the list at the back of the book. His name was Christopher Hook, but he must be dead by now. He lent me his copy and I used to quote passages to an organist friend and he said “why don’t you translate it?” so I did. I sent the MS to OUP; they rejected it but did not return it. I have since found passages from it appearing verbatim in another book. I have also translated those parts of his “Journal” which were published by the Société des Amis de l’Orgue” and Duruflé’s “Souvenirs” (the first part of his “Souvenirs et autres Ecrits”) but I have not attempted to publish either of these.

Braille music transcription

My first contact with David Aprahamian Liddle was through writing out some of his hymn accompaniments. When I attended one of his recitals I introduced myself and he said that some of the music he wanted to play was not available in Braille. By that time I had retired and thought that I could learn to transcribe music into Braille as a means of occupying my spare time. I asked if there were any suitable books in Hove library and was referred to the county library where there was a lady who handled unusual requests. She suggested that I should approach Lewes Prison where there was a long term prisoner who could teach me. He gave me a Perkins Brailler and primer and corrected my exercises. This was useful for text but quite useless for music. I then contacted the RNIB and they sent me some books, but they were very basic and did not go much beyond hymns. My first attempt at transcribing music was a piece by René Vierne which
I sent to David and this started the letters and phone calls through which he has continued to improve my ability in Braille.

Mr Firman of the RNIB told me about the American firm which produces computer programs for Braille. (www.duxburysystems.com). They sent me their “Perky Duck” program free of charge and I have been using it ever since. It converts the computer keyboard to a Perkins Brailler in which the letters SDFJKL represent the six keys and simultaneous depression of any combination of these 6 keys is possible. All other letter keys except space and backspace are frozen. At first I had to take my computer discs to St Dunstan’s to have the results embossed, but several years ago the local Freemasons (of which I am one) raised the £1600 necessary to enable me to have my own embosser. People think that I just type in a note and the Braille equivalent is produced. Not so! I still have to know which of the 6 keys to use.

I have also transcribed vocal music for four singers and one piano piece and I have one other organ client, Angela Purll. I also transcribe music the other way (from Braille into staff notation) for a blind Canadian composer, Dr John Vandertuin.

I make no charge for my work.

Additional work for organists

Apart from my Braille work I was for a time Editor of the Organ Club Journal and (but not at the same time) subscription manager for the “Organists’ Review”. I maintained the names and addresses of the subscribers and banked the money, while the address labels were produced by Philip Brereton, an organist in Rochdale. After he died both jobs were taken over by Allegro Music.

David adds:

Thanks to the heroic generosity of Ron and his Lodge, many Responsorial Psalms, hymn tunes, and important organ works by Hollins, Bossi, Karg-Elert, Mulet, and Vierne are available to Braille readers.


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