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Music to My Ears: An Essay on the Influences of Music on Deaf Culture
Contrary to the common belief of most hearing individuals, music, in all its splendor, plays a vastly important role in the Deaf community. Through the study and performing of various forms of music, the Deaf have achieved goals exceeding all expectation. The joy of music connects two separate cultures, joining both the hearing and the Deaf together by a bond that can never be broken.
The instruction of Deaf students in the practice of instrumental music plays a key role in the development of solid speech structure. Many of the properties of music such as tempo, articulation, accents, rhythm, and the repetition of similar patterns aid in the comprehension of speech (Hash, 2003). Because the study of music improves focus and concentration, many Deaf students find the much-needed motivation to excel academically. The study of music can also help Deaf students establish a more positive view of themselves. Music allows them to express their emotions through a fulfilling outlet and become more socially active.
In addition to the social and academic benefits, many students study for the sake of music itself. They value all aspects of music, and are capable of appreciating it as much as any hearing person, if not more so. Most Deaf students have no difficulty maintaining a beat; they even surpass some hearing students. Deaf students are better at producing lower frequencies than those of higher pitch, but this, along with rhythm production, can be improved with training (Hash, 2003).
Sound appeals to the sense of touch as well as hearing. Thus, music can be “heard” through tactile stimulation and thus reproduced. As Evelyn Glennie, famous Deaf percussionist, elucidated in her “Hearing Essay”, “Hearing is basically a specialized form of touch. Sound is simply vibrating air which the ear picks up and converts to electrical signals, which are then interpreted by the brain.” So it’s not that the Deaf cannot hear, just that there is something wrong with their ears (Glennie).
Deaf students all over the world have enjoyed the immense satisfaction achieved by successfully participating in school bands and orchestras over the past 100 years . One such organization was established by Fred Fancher in 1923 at the Illinois School for the Deaf. This ensemble was taught to play with a high level of precision and expression, and they performed concerts in many cities across the country (Hash, 2003).
Despite this evidence, however, the majority of the hearing population still cannot grasp the concept of a “deaf musician.” When the name Beethoven is mentioned, what comes to mind as a hearing person? The fact that he was one of history’s most distinguished composers, surely. But what of his deafness? In 1801 Beethoven’s hearing began to dwindle (Prevot, 2001). In 1802, Beethoven penned the Heiligenstadt Testament, expressing to his brothers the agony of his diminished hearing. “What a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life – it was only my art that held me back” (Moll, 2008). Despite the loss of his hearing, Beethoven still composed; he still performed. Symphony no. 9 was written by a profoundly deaf Beethoven, and it is among his most renowned works. The legacy left behind by this man influenced both the hearing and Deaf cultures in major ways, and to this day ties us together with a sound bond.
To quote Thomas Carlyle, “All deep things are song. It seems somehow the very central essence of us, song; as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls!” As he so cogently says, music is the core of our existence, and its beauty is shared by all, Deaf and Hearing alike.
Hash, Phillip M. “Teaching Instrumental Music to Deaf and Hard Of Hearing Students.” RIME: Research And Issues in Music Education. 2003. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. 9 Dec. 2008
Glennie, Evelyn. “Hearing Essay.” Dame Evelyn Glennie. 11 Dec. 2008
Prevot, Dominique. “Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Biography.” Beethoven’s Website.
2001. Dominique Prevot. 11 Dec. 2008
Moll, Cameron. “Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament.” NORTHJOURNAL. 2008.LDS Church. 11 Dec. 2008