Rebecca-Anne Withey: Why I’m excited by Sean Forbes and Evelyn Glennie’s musical collaboration

Posted on June 17, 2016

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“Deafness does not mean that you can’t hear, only that there is something wrong with the ears. Even someone who is totally deaf can still hear/feel sounds”. (Glennie, 2010)

We had a visitor one day when I was at Mary Hare school for the deaf. She had wild hair and was moving about while she made – what I perceived to be – a “racket.”

There was quite an excited hubbub regarding her presence, especially amongst the teachers. But with the lady playing what sounded like classical music, I was far from interested.

That lady was Dame Evelyn Glennie. World renowned percussionist and perhaps one of the most well known musicians who is deaf.

I say “who is deaf” rather than “deaf musician” because that’s how she writes about herself; not at all fussed by her deafness and not wishing to be labelled by it in any way.

I know this because I studied her briefly as part of my University dissertation and discovered a statement she issued to journalists explaining her hearing loss and indicating that she no longer wanted to be asked about her deafness.

 ‘If you want to know about deafness, you should interview an audiologist. My speciality is music’. Extract from Hearing Essay by Evelyn Glennie

I saw her recently in video footage by BBC’s See Hear with another acclaimed deaf person, American rapper Sean Forbes.

Based in Detroit, Sean is a profoundly deaf rapper who got signed up in 2010 by the same record company that launched Eminem.

In 2013 Sean was crowned outstanding hip-hop artist of the year at the Detroit Music Awards and the millions of hits he’s notched up on his Facebook and YouTube channel show how much of a storm he is causing as an artist.

The footage by See Hear explained how, inspired by his musical achievements over in the States and curious to explore the genre of rap, Evelyn contacted Sean and enquired about the possibility of a collaboration.

Sean and his producer Jake Bass – having already heard of Evelynn’s work – were equally eager and flew over to the UK.

Now, I’m a little bit more in awe of Sean’s work (sorry Evelyn!) purely because the musical style is more to my taste. The fact that Sean signs his lyrics and makes funky accessible music videos means I have an easier time enjoying his songs than I do trying to listen to classical percussion.

My hearing aids don’t make easy sense of the many layers of classical music. While Evelyn says that all notes, no matter how subtle, can be felt physically, it’s not a process that I find easy.

It does seem odd at first to comprehend how such a formal genre can be fused with one that began in “the streets” – will it have the same impact visually and audibly? Will either style get lost in the other?

Yet even despite being from alternate countries; Scotland and the USA and having such different backgrounds, Evelyn and Sean seem so at ease in another’s presence it would be easy to assume they’ve worked together for many years. They even appeared to lipread each other’s accents effortlessly!

So I have an inkling that this might just work…

Sean’s hearing producer, Jake Bass, has been working alongside Evelyn  to compose music for Sean’s song lyrics and the whole project will culminate in a 2017 tour featuring a 25 piece orchestra.

So that’s popular rap and classical music fused together, written and performed by musicians who happen to be deaf.

I have no idea if I’ll like this combination or even if I’ll understand it. But I know for sure that with two musical prodigys like this, I’ll certainly be going to see it.

“The best part is that being Deaf isn’t even part of the equation, it’s what brought us together.” Sean Forbes

Rebecca-Anne Withey is an actress, sign singer and tutor of performing arts. A black country girl at heart, she now resides in Derby where she works in both performance art and holistic therapies. She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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