Equal but…

Deaf Defiance


All the waiting is over and the Games of the XXX Olympiad are upon us. Before you know it everything will be over, so I for one intend to enjoy it to the fullest.

The opening ceremony, which is always highly anticipated, was a spectacle to behold and I, like others, enjoyed “Daniel Craig & The Queen” in their sky diving piece and Mr. Bean’s hilarious “performance” of Chariots of Fire with the grand British orchestra as he did everything expected of Bean!

However, when God Save the Queen was done in sign language I of course sat up as I thought that the execution of it by the children was playful, sweet and accurate; but when I saw another familiar face on stage I became even more excited. Not only that, but after reading up on her life and journey and watching some of her videos I decided to attempt to share a bit about her as best as I could.

Meet Evelyn Elizabeth Ann Glennie; a 47 year-old world renowned percussionist born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland who has had the title of dame bestowed upon her by the Queen. She is a motivational speaker, teacher of Master classes and Lecture demonstrations to all types of instrumentalists, gives her time and energy to various charities, plays the bagpipes and has won many awards including the Sabian Lifetime Achievement Award, the Queen’s Commendation prize for all round excellence, the Order of the British Empire and has been awarded 15 honorary doctorates from universities in the United Kingdom. However, what makes her stand out from any other ordinary musician is the fact that she is profoundly deaf.

Dame Evelyn was indeed born hearing but became deaf at the age of 11. She still has excellent speech but has learnt how to hear other than through her ears. When you hear her speak for the first time about her craft which she has mastered, you would truly forget that she’s deaf. She told her teacher when she was only 12 that she wanted to play music, something which is definitely in her blood as her father played the accordion in a Scottish county dance band.

Of course her teacher was skeptical and asked how she was going to achieve the feat of playing without hearing, to which she replied with a question. She asked him how he heard. When he said through his ears, she said: “Well I hear through my hands, arms, cheekbones, skull, tummy, chest and legs!”

So as she started to learn and develop her craft she auditioned to the Royal Academy of Music in London who told her they didn’t know of the future of a so-called deaf musician. But she refused to accept their stance, and said if they refuse her on that basis alone as opposed to her ability to perform and understand and love the art of creating sound, then they would have to think long and hard about the people they accept.

So after two auditions, they accepted her and that changed the whole role of the music institutions throughout the UK. Under no circumstances were they to refuse any application without allowing the person to be listened to, experienced and then a judgment made based on their performance. This has opened the door for other artistes with disabilities who would have otherwise never been given the opportunity purely based on their disability.

Dame Evelyn performs barefoot so that she can better feel vibrations from her instruments and said that she has managed to distinguish the rough pitch of notes by associating where on her body she felt the sound with the sense of perfect pitch she had before losing her hearing. She also refuses to be defined by her deafness and has played alongside some of the world’s most renowned singers and musicians.

“Deafness does not mean that you can’t hear, only that there is something wrong with the ears,” she says.

She has the distinction of being the first full-time solo professional percussionist in 20th century western society and shows no signs of retiring any time soon. When you hear her speak, you hear the passion and conviction of someone who obviously experiences music in ways we never have.

To hear her go into detail about pitch, tone and intensity through fingers and her entire body, is nothing short of amazing for this lady who to date has received 86 international awards.

For someone to lose something as valuable as their hearing could otherwise be devastating, but she has continued to live and excel in the face of criticism and has proven herself 100 times over as a top class, world class, second-to-none, two-time Grammy Award winning percussionist, totally and completely unfazed by naysayers who seek to stand in the way of her progress. She lives her life not defined by a disability, but fuelled by determination and creativity. Way to go Dame Evelyn!

“First and foremost I am a sound creator. Everything I do is derived from sound in spite of my profound deafness. I strive to explore every sound avenue and surface including design, technology and physicality. I enjoy the challenge of creating a ‘no-fuss’ approach and relish the idea of building a global legacy brand that will live long after I have departed the stage” –Dame Evelyn Glennie

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