Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - Page 9 News List

How Beethoven can teach a deaf child musicality

Deaf people can learn to appreciate music in a multitude of ways, through vibrations, gestures, bodily movements, rhythms and by reading music from the printed page

By Kate Connolly  /  The Guardian, COLOGNE, Germany

He stands at the piano resting his arms on the strings.

“The feeling runs up my arm and down into my feet. It’s all warm and fuzzy, and feels quite good,” he said to his teacher in sign language.

Leon Zagrija, nine, who has partial hearing, enjoys the kettle drums best of all.

“I feel them in my stomach,” he said as the class is asked to spread out and seat themselves randomly between the musicians on the stage. “It makes the hairs on my arms bristle.”

He later goes to stand by a double bass, clutching the back of the instrument as if he were hugging a large soft toy and touching the spike on the wooden floor which emits enormous vibrations.

Eight-year-old Teresa Holtkamp, whose hearing was impaired due to numerous infections of the middle ear as a baby, is also drawn to the drums. Her mother, Ulrike, said she has already seen over several years how music therapy has helped to improve her daughter’s ability to communicate.

“It’s enabled her to develop skills of perception and expression. Today, listening to the Beethoven she was very aware of when it was joyous and mournful,” she said.

Emma Schied invites the children to blow into her oboe, whose vibrating reeds tickle their lips, and to feel the whoosh of air coming through its bell.

“It makes me tingle,” Azad Tabur said.

Schied, one of the 45 core members of this exuberant traveling orchestra, says involvement in Feel the Music does not just influence the children.

“Our ensemble travels around the world and performs with the best conductors and soloists, but this will probably be some of the most important work we will ever do,” she said.

“If you’re giving children with hearing disabilities access to a better way of expressing themselves through music, the experience can only enrich you as a musician and bring you closer to the music,” she said.

Later, a tour of the Philharmonic offers the children a glimpse of the engine rooms of a concert hall, including the conductor’s shower, the cough sweet supply, the stage manager’s booth and the artists’ dressing rooms. Then, with strict instructions not to clap between movements, the children take their seats in the heart of a fee-paying audience and are urged to lean on the wooden armrests to soak up more of the vibrations as they watch and feel the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Andsnes perform.

At the close of the Third Concerto, Azad, who cannot detect any notes in the upper register, springs to his feet and wolf whistles in the direction of the stage, to the mild embarrassment of his father, but to the obvious delight of the musicians, some of whom wave back.

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