Braille Byzantine Music Notation

 

Father Dositheos

 

Contents:

Introduction
History
Byzantine Music Symbols
Byzantine Music Exercise Book
Orthodox Braille Library
Macros
Helpful Links

 

Introduction

"Byzantine Music" is the common term for post-Byzantine liturgical chant. It is the music traditionally used in Eastern Orthodox churches, especially when hymns are chanted in Greek or Arabic. Thus it is used throughout Greece, Cyprus, and the Holy Land, as well as in Orthodox churches anywhere immigrants from these places live.

The notation used for Byzantine music is the oldest musical notation in the world still used today. This notation is uniquely tailored to express Byzantine music in a straightforward, practical manner. Because it is a descriptive notation, it may be used by beginners to chant in a simplistic way as well as by masters to chant in an elaborate way. And because it is based on relative pitches rather than absolute pitches, it is very well suited to vocal music.

History

The braille version of Byzantine Music notation was devised by Father Dositheos (Paraskeviades). Father Dositheos was born in Asia Minor in 1912. At the age of five, he lost his vision due to meningitis. In 1922 he joined the House of the Blind in Kallithea, Athens, where he learned braille. Since he was musically gifted and extremely bright, he also learned Western European staff notation in braille. After graduating from the School of the Blind in 1928, he devoted himself to learning Byzantine music.

At that time, however, there was no way of writing Byzantine music notation (i.e., the "New Method" of the "Three Teachers") in braille. To solve this problem, with the help of the protopsaltis Stavros Stavridis he devised the system of writing Byzantine notation in braille presented below. He then transcribed thousands of pages and many books of Byzantine music into braille using this notation. Furthermore, he also became the protopsaltis at the parish of St. Stephen in New Ionia in Athens. Afterwards, in 1931, he went to Katounakia on the Holy Mountain and became a monk, where he had the time to study the masters of Byzantine music. In 1939, he left the Holy Mountain in order to teach his system of Braille Byzantine notation to others.

While Father Dositheos was on the Holy Mountain, however, another blind chanter (Demetrios Chysaphidis) with the help of professor Constantine Papademetriou transcribed hymns of Byzantine music into European staff notation in braille and began teaching this to the blind. Since blind chanters had become acquainted with this music notation first, fifty years would pass before they would begin using the notational system of Father Dositheos. They eventually realized that staff notation has several inherent drawbacks in comparison with Byzantine notation and that it prevented them from chanting together with sighted chanters using Byzantine notation.

Father Dositheos helped establish the Association of Blind Chanters in Athens. He also wrote hundreds of pages of his own compositions of Byzantine music, which were later transcribed into standard Byzantine notation for the sighted and published in the following books:

1) Λειτουργικά (Music for the Divine Liturgy)
2) Οκτώηχον Εβδομαδάριον (Weekday Hymns from the Octoechos)
3) Παραλειπόμενα Τριωδίου (Additional Triodion Hymns)
4) Μουσικόν Τριώδιον (Triodion Music)

5) Δοξαστάριον (Music for the feast days of new saints)

He passed away in 1991 at the age of 79. For more about the history of the formation of the Association of Blind Chanters, please read our web page entitled "Writing Byzantine Music for the Blind and Father Dositheos." And for additional details about his life, you may read these "Recollections of Father Dositheos."

 

Byzantine Music Symbols

The following image displays a chart of all the symbols of Byzantine Notation above their braille counterparts. For a text summary of this chart, see our Reference Manual.

Conversion Chart from Neumes to Braille

Click here for a magnification of this chart.

 

A picture of a sample hymn of Braille Byzantine Music
(with each braille symbol translated)

Click here for a magnification of this picture.

The same sample hymn is written in English below (with ASCII characters): Click here to listen to a recording of this hymn in English.

>HOS _9-! _PA4

,LORD-:>\ ,I-\ HAVE-: CRIED-,:\ UN-\5'H9 TO-[H: ,THEE-@VR 9' _P5 HEARK-@Q EN-*\# UN-*\>\1 TO-ME5\ ME-S _P5 HEARK-]<,:1 EN-MH' UN-*[>\9 TO-\\ ME-:#::>9 ,OR/E5\ ,LORD-S _P5 ,LORD-9@]6[ ,I-\ HAVE-: CREID-,:@<#\\ UN-8R1 TO-M# ,THEE-:>R 9' _G7 HEARK-,*[# EN-\\ UN-R TO-\5'H9 ME-:2+O _Z0 AT-] TEND-^U TO-\ THE-\ VOICE-:,:/\9 OF-\H: MY-O SUP-:>\ PLI-:#9 CA-R/E5\ TION-S _P5 WHEN-] ,I-[ CRY-,W\ UN-R TO-\5'H9 ,THE-]3+\:> R _G7 ,HEARK-[# EN-S UN-*\>\1 TO-M' ME-:#,UH9 ,O-S/E5\ ,LORD-!

Byzantine Music Exercise Book

To learn all the basic symbols of Braille Byzantine Music notation click here to access our online Exercise Book with audio recordings and written explanations.

 

Orthodox Braille Library

The following liturgical texts and music books in braille may be downloaded for free. All files are in ASCII format and are thus ready to be embossed by most braille printers. Please contact us if you have any other files we could add to this humble collection. To see on your screen what these files will look like when embossed in braille, download the SimBraille font and change all characters in the file to that font.

English Liturgical Texts in Braille:

All the following booklets may be purchased from our monastery, and some of them have links so that you can download them as brf files and emboss them yourself. Please contact us if you are interested in ordering an embossed copy.

  • Small Compline formatted for 11"x11.5" paper (40 by 25 cells) in grade 2 English braille in Elizabethan English
  • The Akathist Hymn formatted for 11"x11.5" paper in grade 2 English braille in Elizabethan English
  • The Psalter as it is read in the Orthodox Church, translated by Michael Asser, formatted for 11"x11.5" paper in grade 2 British braille in Elizabethan English.
  • The Psalter as it is read in the Orthodox Church, translated by Michael Asser and edited by St. Gregory Palamas Monastery. This version of the Psalter is nearly identical to the previous Psalter mentioned, but it has been edited so that the translation corresponds more closely to the original Greek. It is in grade 2 English braille in Elizabethan English. The pages are 38 cells wide and 25 cells high so that the file can be printed and bound in a beautiful and durable hardcover volume by Braille International. (This may be bought from us as a hardcover book for $45)
  • Morning Prayers (i.e., selections from the Midnight Hour)
  • Prayers Before Communion
  • Matins. This has the fixed portions of Matins (i.e., Orthros) as translated into Modern English by Father Ephrem Lash.
  • Vespers. This has the fixed portions of Vespers as translated into Modern English by Father Ephrem Lash.
  • The Hours as translated into Modern English by Father Ephrem Lash.

 

Greek Texts in Braille: (All these files follow Greece's national standard of Greek braille rather than International Greek braille.)

  • Mikro Apodeipno kai Hairetismoi (Small Compline and the Akathist Hymn). The file is 40 cells wide but does not have page breaks and page numbers.
  • The Greek Septuagint by St. Anthony's Monastery: This is the version of the entire Old Testament published by the Church of Greece (Apostolike Diakonia). We have converted the text to braille in accordance with the rules of monotonic Greek, and it includes capitalization, punctuation, and verse numbers. However, the file has not been formatted with page numbers and headers.
  • The Accented Greek New Testament by St. Anthony's Monastery: This is the version of the New Testament published by the Church of Greece (Apostolike Diakonia). We have converted the text to braille in accordance with the rules of monotonic Greek, and it includes capitalization, punctuation, and verse numbers. However, the file has not been formatted with page numbers and headers.
  • The Unaccented Greek New Testament by St. Anthony's Monastery: This is the 1550 Textus Receptus of Stephanus with some UBS textual variants in parentheses. Because there are more than one hundred different combinations of diacritical marks, adding them to Greek braille renders texts difficult to read. Our version of the New Testament omits all those accents and has no capitalization or punctuation (all of which were absent from the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament anyway), and is thus easy to read in braille. But since the diacritical marks occasionally help to clarify the meaning of a word, one who is not familiar with New Testament Greek might prefer a text that has them (such as this online polytonic version of the official text of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or the previous entry in this list which is the Greek New Testament with monotonic accents) despite the drawbacks of polytonic accents in braille. Our downloadable zip file consists of 8 separate .brf files replete with tables of contents, page numbers, and footers containing the chapter and verse numbers of each page. The pages are 38 cells wide and 25 cells high so that the files can be printed and bound in beautiful and durable hardcover volumes by Braille International for about $23 per volume. To have them printed more economically with a comb-binding, we recommend contacting Volunteer Braille Services.
  • The Greek Psalter by St. Anthony's Monastery: This is the version of the Psalter published by the Church of Greece (Apostolike Diakonia). We have converted the text to braille in accordance with the rules of monotonic Greek, and it includes capitalization, punctuation, and a table of contents. The psalms have been arranged in kathismata for liturgical use. Since that file is more than 300 pages, we are also offering the same Psalter in four separate volumes so that they may be embossed and bound in more convenient sizes.

Byzantine Music in Greek in Braille: (All these files follow Greece's national standard of Greek braille rather than International Greek braille.)

 

Macros

The following macros are simple computer programs that can be installed in the Visual Basic Editor of Microsoft (MS) Word to accomplish useful tasks.

  • PolyMono changes all characters in polytonic unicode Greek in a MS Word document into monotonic Greek. This is especially useful for the visually impaired who rely on screen readers that cannot read polytonic Greek. It is also useful for converting text to be emailed, since several email programs create errors when trying to send polytonic Greek.
  • GreekMonoToBraille changes all monotonic Greek characters in an MS Word document into ASCII braille. For example, an "alpha" will be converted to an English captial-A. This is useful for changing a Greek text into a format that can be recognized by most braille printers. This macro is smart enough to insert the foreign-language symbol (dots 56) before English characters in that document as well as the number sign (dots 3456) before numbers and the capital sign (dots 46) or all-caps sign (dots 46, dots 46) before letters or entire words that are capitalized.
  • RemoveMonotonicAccents removes all monotonic accents from a Greek document in MS Word. Words in Greek braille are very long for two reasons: 1) There is no contracted "grade 2" version of Greek braille to save space (except for the mandatory single-cell braille characters for diphthongs), and 2) The average word length in Greek is 5.5 letters per word (English's average is 4.5). Adding an extra braille character for every word's accent would make Greek words in braille even longer and more cumbersome to read. Therefore, most Greeks prefer braille written without accents. They only write the accent when the location of the accent is necessary to differentiate between two words that are identical except for their accents' location. This macro was written with this preference in mind, for it removes all monotonic accents from a Greek text in MS Word. (It is not smart enough, however, to retain the accent in words that should be kept for clarification.) Thus, one could run this macro on a monotonic Greek text before running the "GreekMonoToBraille" macro if one wants to produce Greek braille without accents.
  • PsalticaToBraille takes an MS Word file with Byzantine music written in our "EZ Psaltica" font package and coverts all the neumes of Byzantine music in it to braille. Although this does successfully convert 99% of the neumes in accordance with the rules of Braille Byzantine Music notation, its major drawback is that it does not convert the lyrics. These must be converted and inserted manually into the brailled music. Since we are still ironing out a few imperfections in the macro, we expect to be regularly updating the posted file over the next few weeks. The currently uploaded version was last updated on July 25, 2010. (We will edit this date every time we upload a newer version.)
  • BrailleToNeumes takes a file in Braille Byzantine Music Notation (in ASCII format) and automatically converts the file into Byzantine Music notation for the sighted, using the EZ Psaltica fonts.  Thus, it will enable a sighted chanter to understand a file in Braille Byzantine Music Notation. The currently uploaded version was last changed on August 20, 2010.
  • MelodosToBraille will convert a Byzantine Music document in .mel format (used by the program "Melodos") into Braille Byzantine Notation. God willing, the author of the program "Melodos" will incorporate a way to translate music files into braille in a future version of the program.

Note: These macros were created using MS Word 2003 and might not work properly with newer versions of Word. Also be aware that there is a bug in some versions of MS Word that can suddenly make macros stop working properly. The easiest way to solve this problem is simply to close and reopen MS Word, which for some reason makes macros functional again.

 

Helpful Links

For more information about Byzantine music, explore our list of links about Byzantine Music that we regularly update.

The Association of Blind Chanters (in Athens). Although their web site is not ready yet, their president (who knows English) may be reached at the following address and phone number:

Mr. Manolis Basias
Pontou 66
16452 Argyroupolis
Greece
Tel. +30 210-962-0002
    

The Bartimaeus Alliance of the Blind in San Francisco has many Greek New Testament Study Aids as well as several versions of the Greek New Testament that are already formatted to be easily embossed by a braille printer.

Free hard copies of the Bible in braille:

  • Braille Bibles International provides braille Bibles in the King James Version, as well as the following braille books: a Beginner's Bible, a Bible Concordance, and a Bible Dictionary. They also have the New Testament in Koine Greek. Unfortunately, however, it is in International Polytonic Greek Braille, which is different from Greece's national standard of Greek Braille that is used for all Greek liturgical books and Byzantine Music books in Greek.
  • The Lutheran Braille Workers provide braille Bibles in the New International Version in both grade 1 and grade 2 braille, as well as in a dozen foreign languages, including Modern Greek.

St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery

The Divine Liturgies Music Project

Byzantine Music Links

Contact Us

 

Didymus the Blind was revered by his contemporaries as the foremost Christian scholar of the fourth century and as an influential spiritual leader. He devised a system of tactile writing 1500 years before the invention of braille and had great knowledge of many subjects, including music. Although the Second and Third Ecumenical Synods condemned Origenist aspects of his speculative theology, they never condemned Didymus himself. St. Nikolai Velimirovich includes him as a saint in the Prologue on October 18th.

μπράιγ Βυζαντινή μουσική γραφή τυφλών μπράϊγ Δοσίθεος Byzantine chant