Can a deaf person play music? World-famous percussionist, Evelyn Glennie, can. She’s stubborn, self-driven, and will not give up. From such dedication, Glennie has won two Grammys and many otherinternationalawards. For instance, in 2007 Queen Elizabeth II awarded Glennie a Dame hood for her work in music.
She dislikes it when journalists ask her about her hearing loss. As mentioned in many articles, Glennie does not like to publicize her hearing loss, not even on her publicity materials. She sometimes tells off pushy journalists obsessed with this topic to interview audiologists, not her. “My specialty is music,” Glennie said in her Hearing Essay found on her website www.evelyn.co.uk.
Glennie is a “self-made” music legend. She developed her own music product: Evelyn Glennie. She wanted to have a “Glennie” tartan, so she personalized it more by giving it the name “The Rhythms of Evelyn Glennie.”
“I wanted the colors to be vibrant, energetic, optimistic, with the feeling of movement,” Glennie said—about the Rhythms of Evelyn Glennie.
When Glennie came on stage at Royce Hall at UCLA, she suddenly jumped into music, wielding mallets on her unique percussion equipment. Bam…tap tap tap bam bam, tones fluctuating from a loud boom to a soft whisper—you’d forget the fact that Glennie lost much of her hearing from the age of 8. You’d hear different textures throughout the performance that sound like the piano or the guitar. The mallets move so fast giving the illusion that they’re flying off stage. She plays 100 concerts a year, roughly.
She is not interested in the cochlear implant, a sophisticated hearing device that allows the profoundly deaf to hear speech and music. She felt that she had time to adapt to her deafness, because she started losing her hearing at the age of 8, according to an e-mail interview.
“I’ve spent the majority of my life discovering ways to hear differently,” Glennie said. “My whole profession is about sound making and I am simply too advanced in years to make such a huge change to my whole understanding and perception of sound.”
According to The Belfast News Letter on Jan. 19, 2002, Glennie’s deafness does not stop top orchestras from wanting to work with her. “This incredible lady can identify the notes according to the vibrations she feels through her feet and body,” Kevin Murphy, a host from Londonberry’s Classical Music Society, said in this article. Glennie has been featured in many films and television shows such as Sesame Street, Touch the Sound, andSee What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers’ Documentary (www.seewhatimsayingmovie.com) to name a few. She mostly functioned as a composer for such projects according to imdb.com.
Ironically at Royce Hall Glennie was not barefoot as many articles have mentioned about her.
“I feel more connected to the sound when I’m barefoot,” Glennie said. “It is like a security blanket rather than an absolute necessity. So much vibration is felt through the feet even if the sound is not exposed to the ear.”
You can’t always see her, but you can hear her on stage. Glennie looked petite –at just five feet 2 inches, on stage at Royce Hall, but you’d forget her size when you see how energetic she gets on stage. You’d start to wonder where she’d got all that energy stamina to play percussion. She’d alternate standing and sitting entertaining the audience with different types of sound by using different percussion tools. Sometimes she moved slow, but mostly she moved very fast with the mallets. She even made music using paint brushes, leaving you to wonder how those brushes could make music. She even disappeared at times behind the huge percussion contraption stationed on stage but you can hear her clearly. Glennie owns an enormous amount of percussion instruments, over 1800 in total. She also has people in her office who handle transportation of these equipment on her world tours.
At times, she’d speak to the audience explaining how music changes in pace and show different types of emotion. Hearing her voice, you’d notice her strong Scottish accent.
“I like her since she is different,” Jody Stevenson, 34, an audience member, said. “She has extraordinary music equipment like the rare drum that she uses and she has an unique way of using instruments with an unique beat. The beat is the most important feature in Glennie’s music.”
“I don’t see Glennie as a deaf artist, but as an amazing musician who happens to be deaf,” Hilari Scarl, director of See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers’ Documentary film, said. “Her deafness is not relevant, as she is focused on the work at hand whether she is rehearsing with an orchestra, giving lectures, or producing interesting projects.”
Glennie wanted to become a musician at the age of 15, according to a Dec. 2007 article in The Sacramento Bee. She ignored a school career counselor’s suggestion that she could forget music and go into accounting.
Glennie never has had a day off in her life, according to this article since her upbringing on the farm was all about work, work, and work. However, she appreciated it when her father attended her concerts when he could even when he was still busy on the farm, Glennie said.
Also, at 12, Glennie studied piano and percussion at Ellon Academy in 1977. Yet, Glennie left that school at the age of 16 since of the drama that her hearing loss was making. She didn’t have many friends, and found it difficult to play in orchestras as a group since she had to learn how to understand the full score. Also at that school she relinquished her hearing aids since she felt that she could function well by feeling the vibrations with her body.
She then got accepted into the Royal Academy of Music in London to study percussion and piano where she had to fight to become a solo percussionist, which was still unheard back in 1982. She was the first to play as a solo percussionist at that Institution, but without the support of her teacher who did not show up.
“”I had to get over a lot of things psychologically while I was at the Royal Academy,” Glennie said. Upon graduation with a Honors degree from the Academy at 19, she was glad to leave the Academy since she felt that she functions better when working solo.
Aside from her achievements, Glennie feels that music is the most important thing to her. She wants her audience to be happy, but sometimes she feels intimidated by them by feeling their vibe when she steps on stage anywhere in the world.
“I feel an atmosphere, an energy at each concert, Glennie said. “If I make an error, I don’t want to jump in the river, but I do want to improve the passage.”
Having traveled globally, Glennie looks at the world as a village, as she said during the e-mail interview. Her music comes from her upbringing and her surroundings, according to Glennie
“I’m always peeping through a keyhole to other cultures,” Glennie said.
Aside from being a musician, Glennie is also a Motivational speaker, Consultant, Composer and Jewellery Designer. She completed her own autobiography at 24: Good Vibrations.
Also, she is involved with charities as a patron by serving as a Motivational speaker.
Glennie also teaches children how to make music by pulling out curiosity from them about music by having them paint pictures when they hear sounds. For example, she had children at an elementary school in Wisconsin use their imagination and develop their own world of music, according to an April 2004 article in Wall Street Journal. “Use your body, the floor, and the room is like an artist’s canvas,” Glennie told the kids during class. “You’re drawing sounds. These are our paintbrushes and colors.” She explains, the contrast, intensity, and the sound color create diversity in music that is unique to everyone.
When the show at Royce Hall was close to an end, Glennie used a cello as a percussion tool when she played with Cellist Maya Beiser. On stage, the two women enjoyed themselves playing with their own cellos—Beiser sitting on a chair playing the cello and Glennie sitting on the floor striking mallets on the other. Observing that the duo played in impeccable unison was impressive as if they have been working together for years. It was composer David Lang’s idea—he has won a Pulitzer Prize for his work. He was friends with both of the women and wanted to see them play together—playing Stuttered Chant—for the first time in history showing their talent.
Lang has achieved his dream of seeing both women playing as equals on stage, as they were holding hands at the end of the show, hearing a huge applause from the audience at 11 p.m. at night at UCLA.
Coming from a family who lived on the farm in Scotland, Glennie lives to work.
“It’s hugely important to me,” Glennie said in an article dated on July 2005 in The Sunday Telegraph in the U.K. “Otherwise all this work will have been for nothing.”