Monday, January 05, 2015


This morning CBC’s The Current aired a program called Deaf Jam. It traced the career development of two deaf musicians—not counting, although mentioning Beethoven. Evelyn Glennie and Sean Forbes have built reputations that would be the envy of anyone aspiring to make it in the music world. More than once, the documentary tried to address that burning question: How can a deaf person engage—I mean truly engage with music? Still puzzled and perplexed at the end of the documentary, I focused on one snippet. Evelyn Glennie was initially refused entry into a school of music that routinely accepted blind applicants—refused not because of ability, but because of deafness. As you might guess, she fought this ruling and won. No doubt this was only one among thousands of battles she fought before she became famous. Wondering how it is that a deaf person could want so much to build a musical career, I contemplated my recent trip to Russia. Tourism in Russia is not exactly a pastime I would recommend to blind people. The major attractions—the Winter Palace, the Moscow Subway, dozens of icon-laden churches, etc., are art galleries. There is nothing you can touch. There is no tour guide interested in helping you touch anything. I did, however, enjoy the trip. Explain that, will you? I can’t. From the stories of Evelyn Glennie and Sean Forbes I took three messages: Understand that deafness is a complex condition that affects people in different ways; Understand that deaf people can be musical; understand that hearing people cannot fully understand deaf people, but they can help them live better. And a fourth message perhaps: Understand that people can’t really understand blind people, not even blind people themselves.

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