I wouldn’t exactly call myself a classical music buff. In fact, I don’t really know much about it at all, to be honest. So I surprised a few people, including myself, when I went along to a classical music concert recently.
It wasn’t just any classical music concert though. I was invited by my friend Eloise Garland to hear her sing, along with three other classically trained musicians and a special guest, who were performing in London in their quartet called ‘The 4Orte Ensemble’.
Unlike other musical quartets, these musicians are all deaf or hard of hearing and they have been performing in concerts and taking part in musical workshops for children all around the country over the last couple of months on behalf of a charity called ‘Music and the Deaf’.
This is the only UK charity dedicated to providing music access and opportunities for deaf people of all ages, including children, and they aim to push the boundaries of what deaf musicians can aspire to and achieve.
Artistic Director Danny Lane, who is profoundly deaf, introduced the concert. He has been with the charity since 2003 and he spoke passionately about his work with young people, both at home and abroad, raising awareness and encouraging deaf musicians to develop their talents and achieve their dreams.
Ruth Montgomery, who played the piccolo, was first to perform, accompanied at times by her father Roger Montgomery. Before she played she told us that she had had a profound hearing loss from childhood, but she had grown up in a musical family.
An audiologist told her once that she wouldn’t be able to play the piccolo because it had really high tones. But she decided to ignore this advice. She played the instrument beautifully that night with a combination of fast-paced Romanian Folk Dances and slower, more haunting tunes.
Next we had Sean Chandler playing the cornet. He is a severely deaf musician and teacher of music to deaf children. In a playful, joking manner he told the audience that when he tells people he is a deaf musician, they look at him “like he has just landed”, as if he is completely mad.
He explained that people don’t have high expectations of deaf musicians, who need to believe in themselves and keep pushing the boundaries. He said he found it a real privilege to perform around the country and inspire other deaf people to be interested in music and discover a real passion for it.
Sean played several pieces for the cornet, including Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto and a humorous in-character take on ‘The Lazy’ Trumpeter by Edrich Siebert.
Next it was the turn of Danny Lane, who played the piano. Before he played, he told us that although he was profoundly deaf, he had always been surrounded my music in his family from a very young age and it was an integral part of who he was. He played many instruments as a child at school and has had a real passion for music all his life.
He described very excitedly how when he first discovered one of the pieces he was to play for us that night, Chopin’s Étude Opus 10 No.3 in E major, it reminded him of when he was a child peddling away on his bicycle, with his head gazing up at the clouds and being transported into a world of complete innocence and freedom.
As he played Rachmaninoff’s ‘Prelude in G Minor’, I was transfixed. He played the music so beautifully and seamlessly that it was hard to imagine that he was profoundly deaf. As his fingers glided quickly and flawlessly across the keyboard, I noticed that he didn’t have any music in front of him. He must have memorised it all in his head. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be to play such a complex piece of music from memory, but he made it look so effortless. I had never seen that before and it sounded unbelievably good!
Eloise then came onto the stage to sing soprano. She told the audience that she had a moderate hearing loss but had been interested in music and singing ever since she was seven years old and asked her parents if she could go to church and sing in her local choir in North Wales. She later went on to study at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and has just finished a music degree at the City University in London.
Eloise sang composer John Hosking’s modern setting of Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem ‘Music: An Ode’. It was a very haunting, sad song, but her voice was very pure and she demonstrated the full range of her pitch when she energetically sang out to the audience.
We then had a special guest appearance by concert pianist Elizabeth Elliott. She explained that she had studied the violin at the Guildhall Music School. After she left, she began a career as a violinist and music tutor, but her hearing began to deteriorate until she had to end up giving up her career due to her deafness.
This was devastating for her, but eventually she discovered that she could play the piano instead and became a concert pianist. She now has a cochlear implant, which she said has helped her enormously and enabled her to continue playing the piano, which she described as “her redeemer”.
At first, the music she heard with her cochlear implant was all scrambled up, like a jigsaw puzzle, but she persevered and gradually, the sounds became more recognisable and she filled in the gaps with music which she remembered from when she was hearing. She played Chopin’s ‘Nocturne Opus 9 number 1, in B flat minor’ beautifully, with an incredible intensity and emotion, as if her life depended on it.
The Ensemble also played a couple of pieces together as a group, which demonstrated all of their individual talents. They ended up with ‘Londonderry Air’, with Eloise singing a beautiful performance of ‘Danny Boy’, which was really stirring and poignant.
It was a great evening and I came out feeling really uplifted and happy. I would definitely recommend you go and see them for yourselves if you get the chance.
Read more of Richard Turner’s writing for Limping Chicken by clicking here.
By Richard Turner. Richard blogs at his own blog, Good Vibrations and works in hearing aid support for Action on Hearing Loss
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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