Louis W. Rodenberg inducted into The Randolph Society

Louis W. Rodenberg

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Louis W. Rodenberg, a talented innovator who was instrumental in transforming Braille notation for visually-impaired musicians, will be inducted into the 2023 class of honorees.

Louis William Rodenberg was born near Evansville on May 11, 1891. He was the first child of Philip and Frederika Rodenberg, who both came from German families. He had two older siblings, Henry and Elizabeth, from his father’s first marriage, and the Rodenberg family quickly grew to include numerous additional brothers and sisters, all of whom were raised on farm land in rural Randolph County near Ellis Grove.

In January 1901, a tragic accident changed Louis’s life forever. While running across a frozen field on his way to school, he tripped and fell, injuring his eye. Infection set in and spread, and soon he had lost his vision entirely. An operation at a St. Louis hospital was unsuccessful, and Louis faced the reality of learning to function without his sight.

A teacher at the Belle Vista schoolhouse introduced Louis to a brand-new way of reading and writing: Braille. After some initial resistance, he quickly learned the new notation system. Learning to read Braille unlocked a new world of possibilities for Louis, and as an adult, he often enthused about the doors that Braille education could open for other blind men and women. His education continued in his teenage years at the Illinois School for the Blind in Jacksonville, Illinois, where he earned his high school diploma and discovered a love for music.

Louis had a natural talent for working with machines, something that led to his appointment as director of the school’s print shop. Now he wasn’t only able to read Braille texts—he was also an instrumental part of their production. The print shop became one of the largest producers of Braille literature in the country. As he continued to hone his skills playing the piano and various other instruments, Louis began a series of experiments to find a more effective way to print musical scores for blind musicians.

Louis quickly identified one method, the “bar over bar” system, as the most natural way to represent music for visually-impaired musicians. The Rodenberg method of musical notation for the visually impaired was, by 1923, accepted as a standard by all leading American institutions for the blind. Louis was hailed as a “genius” for his achievement. All major schools for the visually impaired in the country adopted his system, and the print shop in Jacksonville became the nation’s leading producer of musical scores for the blind. He also became a biographer of blind musicians from the past, as well as an editor for the Musical Review for the Blind.

The system that Louis developed gained international attention. He traveled to Europe multiple times to serve as a delegate at conferences dedicated to Braille and musical notation for the blind. By the 1950s, the United Nations had appointed him as a technical consultant on the subject to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind. The American Federation for the Blind gave him one of their highest honors, the Migel Medal, in 1943, with Helen Keller herself presenting him with the award. More accolades followed, including an honorary doctorate from MacMurray College.

Louis also cherished a love for poetry. During his lifetime, most of his own poems were shared only with a small circle of trusted family members and friends. An exception is his “Triptych to a Sunken City,” a trio of sonnets about the lost village of Kaskaskia. In 1942, the poem was engraved on a set of bronze tablets placed at the new Fort Kaskaskia State Park, the creation of which he had strongly advocated. After more than half a century working as a writer, editor, publisher, and composer, Louis passed away in 1966. A biographer noted, “In spite of his childhood tragedy, Rodenberg’s life was full and fruitful. His ‘affliction,’ as he called his blindness, prompted him to pursue a career that greatly benefited blind people around the world.” Visually-impaired people everywhere can thank Louis for opening up new doors for them—and so can every single person who enjoys hearing poetry and listening to music.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Louis W. Rodenberg.