Tag Archives: music

Feel the Music!

On 23rd October, I went to a ‘Feel the Music’ concert, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at BBC Hoddinot Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre. It was held in conjunction with Music and the Deaf, and led by Dr Paul Whittaker OBE, founder and artistic director of same, and Andy Pidcock, creative musician, and the whole thing was conducted by Grant Llewellyn, who has conducted the BBC Doctor Who proms, no less. I just hope I’ve spelt his name right.

It was a stellar cast, with a great orchestra and many more working behind the scenes, and it paid off in droves.

It was brilliant! It was my first concert, and I’m glad I picked this one to go to. It had deaf people firmly in mind, with lots of audience interaction, palantypists, big screens with subtitles and ‘visual representations’ of the music (think psychedelic shapes morphing in time to the music), an interpreter, Tony Evans, who kept up his enthusiastic terping for well over an hour, towel and a bucket for that man please and a very enthusiastic and colourful orchestra. There were lots of children and some NDCS volunteers in attendance, and I certainly embraced my own inner child!

Before the concert proper, there was the chance to talk to members of the orchestra as they milled around with their instruments, happy to explain them to anyone who asked. I met a bass clarinet player (think giant clarinet; a bastard offspring of a clarinet and a saxophone) who explained the concept of a bass clarinet – genuinely new to me – and as a violinist wandered along, I had the opportunity to ask them what was so bad about ‘bum notes’. It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen on subtitles, usually as hearing people wince and flinch, but I’ve never been bothered by them nor understood what the fuss was about; it’s just a wrong note. How bad can it be?

The clarinettist and violinist did their best to explain that it’s when two notes clash together – then they demonstrated it for me. They played together, then deliberately did a ‘bum note’ for me, right next to me, and damn.

To explain to my fellow deaf readers who may, like me, not have appreciated a ‘bum note’ in its full glory, find a blackboard. Run your fingernails down it. Feel how the weird vibration sets your teeth on edge and makes your hair rise? That’s what a ‘bum note’ feels like when you’re next to it. Is that what hearing people feel every time they hear a bum note? No wonder they hate it so much, the poor darlings! And bless those two players for their patient explanations and personal demonstrations, really felt like they were only too happy to help me understand elements of music that have passed me by.

One of the things the various orchestra members did was to play their instruments and encourage us to touch the instrument while they were playing – a brilliant idea. Now I know what a violin feels like when it’s played and I think I have a better understanding of why hearing people like it so much; I didn’t really ‘get’ violins before, as they produce a ‘soft’ sound that I perhaps I don’t really appreciate, but they sound nice up close and feel nice when played. Another win for the concert! The best instrument for this though, was the double bass; it feels like a really deep purr, and putting my head on the body of the instrument (yes, really) felt like a deep purr buzzing through my skull. Believe it or not, it was actually quite soothing. Bbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……

The concert proper began with some interactive explanations of basic music concepts, with Andy turning it into a game where the audience could ‘boomerang’ sound and bounce it back and forth. There was also a demonstration of the ‘speaker box’ – basically a wooden box on the ground, positioned above a speaker so whatever sound there was blasted through the speaker and made the box vibrate. Andy got a couple of kids to demonstrate it by getting them to stand on it and giving them a microphone, and one innocent little boy was so enthralled with feeling his own voice that he started jumping up and down on it going ‘Oh! Ah! Oh! Ah! Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh! Ah! Yes! YES! YES!’… Whilst my hearing-aids don’t usually pick up low-level sounds, I’ll swear I heard muffled chuckles coming from all around me. Or maybe that was just me – stop it woman, he’s just an innocent little munchkin discovering the vibration of his voice, don’t laugh. A thought process I suspect occurred in many of the adult section of the audience…

I digress. The concert as a whole was enthusiastically delivered, by everyone, and it was a great atmosphere. The kids were really getting into it, and so was I, I loved it. During some of the pieces of music, the audience was invited to go into the orchestra where empty seats had been set up strategically within the orchestra where people could easily be led there and sit down amongst the music, brilliant idea. It’s like being in the middle of a wall of musical sound, it was great. Even better, a guide was asking people in turn if they would like to come and touch an instrument as it was being played as part of an orchestra, and of course I said yes when she came to me. I was led to a violin, which I duly touched, though it did feel a bit strange to touch a stranger’s instrument while they were playing it (get your mind of the gutter, readers) and it was great – seriously, if you can arrange it, sit in the middle of an orchestra in full flow and touch the violin; you‘ll feel the vibrations of not just the violin, but underneath it, the symphony of the whole orchestra. Huh. This must be why hearing people like orchestra music so much. It does actually feel – and sound – quite nice.

I presume the invasion of personal space by random deaf members of the public had already been cleared with the orchestra in advance, but I was still impressed that having people led to them and having them touch their stuff while they were playing didn’t seem to put them off at all, and indeed one of the cutest things I saw that whole evening was a violinist and a little girl:

The guide led the little girl to the violinist. The little girl reached up to touch the violin, but couldn’t quite reach it. The violinist, without breaking stride, gently leaned down so the little girl could touch the violin, still playing all the while. Aw. I wanted to give that violinist a hug. The little girl seemed quite happy as well. Bless. Double bless.

I did that every time we were invited, it was great fun. There was also ‘who wants to be a conductor?’ which was very popular; the children practically rushed the stage and unfortunately I was too slow in making up my mind that I’d like to have a go. Not to worry, it was fun to watch the kids take the orchestra through their paces – and it was amazing to watch the skill of the orchestra that they were able to play to random baton-waving by a child they’d never seen before – kudos! About 20 kids (and adults) did this, with varying levels of knowledge and skill, but I’m pretty sure they all had fun! There were a few show-stealers among them, possible future conductors if I’m any judge, but every single one of them got a round of applause from the audience. The atmosphere was so positive and encouraging, I wish we could have bottled it.

For me one of the highlights of the evening, as a Dr Who fan, was being invited back into the orchestra for the Dr Who theme. And by luck or serendipity, I ended up near the drum section, and as they were inviting us to come and touch instruments, I got to go and touch the biggest bass drum I’ve ever seen. Until that evening, I wasn’t that bothered by the theme tune. It was just weird whistling noises while the TARDIS swirled around.

But standing within the actual BBC National Orchestra of Wales whilst they played it, with my hand on a big bass drum that soaked up every vibration from the orchestra was just fucking magical. It turns out the Dr Who theme tune is far more complex than I had thought. Who knew? In fact I think I’m going put that down as one of the highlights of my life.

Post-concert, I had the chance to chat with several people involved with the show, and was impressed by their enthusiasm; I got the impression the feeling was mutual! Everyone in the audience I spoke to had loved the show, and everyone involved I spoke to had loved doing it. All in all, a great success, and I’m delighted to say that this concert was only the pilot for more concerts planned in February, I’ll definitely be going!

Thanks to everyone involved for such an accessible, educational and thoroughly enjoyable concert! What a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed by an enthusiastic and varied cast, thanks again! And I look forward to the next one 🙂

P.S. BBC’s National Chorus of Wales and Dr Paul Whittaker OBE are teaming up for Handel’s Messiah at St David’s Hall on 14th December, no doubt a more formal event but I’ll be taking a look 🙂

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Signs of madness, hope and coolness!

Signs of various kinds are brightening the world at the moment, let me tell you all about them!

I’m in a play! It’s called ‘The Birds’ and it’s based on the Ancient Greek comedy of the same name by Aristophanes. I’m not sure how much I can reveal, but the rehearsals have been brilliant, and the play is mad and funny. How many plays have you seen where the cast burst into song whilst transforming into other creatures? None? Then come to this!

It’s completely bonkers and a good laugh, but it doesn’t pull any punches in its’ analogies between the ‘Birds’ and the political situation today. I don’t have many lines but I’ll have a certain… regal… air. Bow to me! The cast are great, and I can vouch for their comedic talents. Have I whetted your curiosity yet? Then come on down to The Sherman Theatre on 11th and 12th May! All BSL terped of course, plenty of signs of madness to be seen! And I don’t just mean the terp… 🙂

The theatre blurb says to expect the unexpected as Disability Arts Cymru’s Unusual Stage School present their unique version of Aristophanes’s Greek comedy The Birds, directed by Cheryl Martin.

Expect the unexpected all right!

‘Signs of Hope: Deafhearing Family Life’ tells the story of a narrative inquiry with three deafhearing families. For many people, deafness represents loss and silence. For others, being deaf is a genetic quirk; an opportunity for learning, spiritual adventure and reward. (Yes, I lifted that from the official blog). The author, Dr Donna West, spent time – a lot of time – with three families, and this book is the result. What makes this book unique is the poetic and performative narratives at the heart of it; she has effectively communicated the families’ and individuals’ hopes and fears in an artistic, nuanced way.

I had the opportunity to attend a seminar Dr West gave about her research a while ago, and as part of it she showed us a poem that one of the deaf children, referred to as Bella, had written / created. It was a powerful analogy between penguins and a particular experience of deafness – you’ll have to read the book if you want that to make sense! But it inspired me to create a sign language poem based what I’d read, entitled ‘Bella’s Penguins’, that’s how expressive it was. This book may be well worth a read not only for its study of the experiences of a deaf/hearing family, but also for how these experiences have been described and narrated.

It will be launched at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol on the 25th April, see the official blog for more info! All welcome, BSL terps laid on.

And lastly, after being blown away by the leader of the United States being able to sign (and his wife!) my inner geek is geeking out at a video that looks like it’s gonna go viral – it’s up to 1.9 million hits so far! What video?

Sir Paul ‘needs no introduction’ McCartney has only gone and produced a video of Natalie ‘Star Wars’ Portman and Johnny ‘that’s Captain Jack Sparrow’ Depp signing his song ‘My Valentine’.

Signing!

True, it’s American Sign Language, not British (and that sign is not ‘tampon’, it’s ASL, and it’s the correct ASL sign for ‘appear’. Forgive me for giggling though!) but the actors used are themselves American, so maybe if this video gets popular enough, Sir McCartney will come back to his roots and do a BSL version with some Brit celebs, though how he’s going to top Natalie ‘just call me the Black Swan’ Portman and Johnny ‘cool is my middle name’ Depp I’ve no idea. Love to see him try though!

Natalie Portman definitely has a natural style, I’d love to know if she’s signed before rehearsing for this video, and how much rehearsing it took. Johnny Depp has a certain moody stare that will no doubt set some hearts fluttering but whilst his hands aren’t as fluid as Portmans’, he still carries it off in style (is there anything he can’t carry off in style?).

Love it!

Signs of madness, hope and coolness indeed – I always knew signs could express anything, but it’s time the world knew it too. Go Sir McCartney!

BSL & Music

Sign language and music. Not the most obvious of bedfellows, I grant you, but when it’s done well, it works. Whether by sign singing (translating mainstream songs to BSL to the music – a la Fletch@) or original work (SignMark and Sean Forbes, step forward please) it can and does work, and is enjoyed by hearing and deaf alike.

Tonight, I am going to perform poetry and sign songs at a BSL music gig in Bath, only the second time I’ve ever done sign songs in public. Belting out 9 to 5 in front of the mirror doesn’t count. Hoping it goes well! I’m confident of my timings, my worst nightmare now is that the music is so loud it overloads my hearing aids and I lose my place – but the vibrations should keep me on track – or I totally forget the words and stand there like a lemon. Probably quite common stage worries, but anxiety-inducing all the same. Am still looking forward to it though – should be a laugh!

Yes, I like music. Yes, I understand music. Most deaf people do at least understand the concept, despite what some hearing people may think. I’m reminded of an incident back in Uni, When a poster in the Deaf Studies dept advertising a similar BSL / music gig was defaced by someone who had written something to the effect of:

“What’s the point? Deaf people and music? How do they hear it?”

This is the scribbled conversation that followed over the next couple of days, as far as my memory allows:

“We feel the vibrations!”

“Yeah sure but you can’t hear the words, what’s the point?”

“That’s what the BSL is for”

And then, below that:

“Look up and to your right :)”

Sure enough, when I looked up and to my right, I saw the CCTV camera, little red light winking at me. I couldn’t help but laugh that the idiot would have looked up and realised their ignorance was being recorded for all to see. I don’t know if anyone ever caught up with them, but I hope the moment of realisation that they were being taped and sniggered at had a lasting effect. At the very least, it put an end to the conversation.

I feel the vibrations, when the beat is clear. When the words are clear, I hear them. If there’s no distinguishable beat or words, I’m lost. This may be why I struggle with Amy Winehouse and many, many other so-called musicians – slurring your words into a microphone and yelling indiscriminately over a crashing guitar and an apparently drunk drummer does not help. Is it too much to ask that music sounds and feels like, well, music?

I should have no such issues tonight, the interpreters are booked, so bring it on! Just make sure there’s somewhere I can sit down…