Jan 15th 2015

What Can A Deaf Composer Teach Hearing Impaired Kids About Music? - More Than You Might Think

by Michael Levin

New York Times best selling author Michael Levin is a nationally acclaimed thought leader on the subject of the future of book publishing.Michael Levin believes that the traditional publishing model is dead, thanks to the long-term foolishness of the major houses and their willful ignorance of new technologies for the marketing and distribution of books.Levin appeared on ABC's Shark Tank for his ghostwriting company, BusinessGhost, Inc., which has authored more than 120 books. E-Myth creator Michael Gerber says Levin has created more successful books than any human being in history.He has written with Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, football broadcasting legend Pat Summerall, football stars Chad Hennings and Maurice Jones-Drew, NBA star Doug Christie, and Fox News broadcaster Chris Myers, among many others. He also edited Zig Ziglar’s most recent book, Born To Win. Michael Levin has contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, Forbes.com, The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and many other top media sources.He blogs at The Future of Publishing. You can ‘like’ his company's page on Facebookhere.Michael Levin has also launched a free resource for writers on YouTube. Over 200 videos, with Michael Levin, discussing every aspect of fiction and nonfiction writing and publishing. Visit http://www.BooksAreMyBabies.com for more.
Even casual fans of classical music know of Ludwig van Beethoven’s deafness.  But could his hearing loss actually have been his greatest advantage as a musician?

Maybe so, says Leif Ove Andsnes, the highly acclaimed Norwegian pianist touring the world playing Beethoven with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.  Perhaps hearing impairment was the great composer’s greatest gift.  And that got Andsnes thinking…about hearing impaired kids and the ways they “hear” or experience music.

“Beethoven knew by age 20 that he was losing his hearing,” Andsnes, nominated for six Grammy awards, told me.  “It led to depression and suicide attempts because of the social shame he experienced.  He couldn’t play the piano in public, and that’s what he had become famous for in Vienna.

“But I’ve been thinking a lot,” Andsnes says, “about why Beethoven’s music took such a radical turn at that moment in his life.  He’s around 32 or 33 when he goes deaf, and that when his music becomes so wild and free and new, like nothing before. 

“Maybe the fact that he had this handicap made him free,” the pianist adds.  “He was suffering a lot, but it also meant ultimately that he could just follow his inner voice and not worry really about this outer voice.  He no longer had to deal with the practicalities of being a composer.  He didn’t have to be confronted with rehearsals and the personalities of other playing together.  His deafness freed him from all that.  He became a much freer and more radical composer as a result.”

This made Andsnes wonder how music is perceived by people who cannot hear.  That inquiry led to the founding of the “Feel The Music” project, which invites hearing-impaired children to experience music – especially Beethoven’s music – in cities around the world where the Mahler Chamber Orchestra plays.

“Music, of course, is ultimately about listening,” says Andsnes.  “But there are other aspects to it.  Of course we listen with our ears, but we also perceive music through vibration and through our body.  That’s what we see working with the kids.

“They are also fascinated about how we as orchestra members communicate non-verbally as we rehearse and perform.  They can clearly see that somebody has a leading role and others are accompanying.  They get to experience the kind of wonderful democracy which is what an orchestra really is.”

Several days before a concert, the Mahler musicians first visit a school with hearing-impaired children.  For two days, they do everything from clapping games to introducing their different instruments.  They let the kids feel the instruments and they play for them.  They explain that music is about emotion.

On the day of the concert, Andsnes does the same thing.

“I have a short session with them where I introduce them to the piano, the hammer striking strings.  I let them feel the strings with their hands.  That’s always a big sensation for them.  They are amazed by how much vibration there is in a piano.  I also have them sit under the piano and touch the soundboard, introduce to them how the pedals work and all that.”

During rehearsals, the hearing-impaired kids sit among the musicians so they can “sit inside the action,” in Andsnes’ words, and see how it all works. 

“I usually play passages of big emotional contrasts and dramatic passages, and some dreamy ones, some daunting ones, and some joyous ones.  I introduce the different groups of instruments…the wind instruments, string instruments, the tympani, and then they get to conduct. 

“We play an improvised chord in the orchestra.  I tell the kids, if you look at the oboe and show a certain gesture, you’ll get this kind of response. Do whatever you want -- fast or slow or introverted or extroverted.  As a result, they understand music like never before.

When the children attend the actual concerts they are captivated,” Andsnes adds.  “They will sit through two hours of serious music and experience it in ways perhaps the adults around them cannot.”

Feel The Music, which has won awards in Europe for its work inspiring children, has been presented in Cologne, Prague, Brussels, London, Dublin, Lucerne, and Paris, among other cities. Last September, 50 children from four countries met in Bonn for a family concert together with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Andsnes and the MCO are performing at Boston’s Jordan Hall on February 22nd and New York’s Carnegie Hall on February 23rd and 25th. 

Andsnes is modest about the goals of the program. 

“We’re not searching for a definite answers to this,” he says.  “We are just opening doors.”




Michael Levin's new novel, The Compass, is now available on Amazon Kindle and can be purchased below.

Michael Levin blogs at The Future of Publishing. You can ‘like’ his company's page on Facebook here.

Michael Levin has also launched a free resource for writers on YouTube. Over 200 videos, with Michael Levin, discussing every aspect of fiction and nonfiction writing and publishing. Visit http://www.BooksAreMyBabies.com for more.

You can follow Michael Levin
 

Michael Levin tells about his work in this video:

To follow what's new on Facts & Arts please click here.


Browse articles by author

More Music Reviews

Feb 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Question: You have said that you are plagued by doubts. Is this true?.........Answer: Of course I am plagued by doubts. This is part of the artist’s life. But I continue to work and perform. I have moments of depression but I try to transform these doubts into positives. Many artists have these doubts. Some don’t talk about it. But doubt is always there."
Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "QUESTION: Wouldn’t young composers of today benefit from aligning themselves with a philosophical ethos in order to find their musical voice -- as opposed to trying merely to find their own voice by drawing on imagination or personal experience?.......... ANSWER: It’s an interesting question, but open to interpretation. My impulse is to answer yes. When young I did a tremendous amount of reading in the history of aesthetics, and as a result my sense of artist -- ethos, necessity, whatever -- is not limited to post-WWII influences. One result is that I’ve never had any patience for the late-20th-century idea that art is about “personal expression.” The ancient and more enduring view is that the artist expresses what is out there to be expressed. As T.S. Eliot admirably wrote, art is an escape from personality, not an expression of it. Likewise I’ve never warmed to the idea of “finding one’s voice,” which sounds to me too much like creating an instantly recognizable trademark style that will make your music easier to market commercially."
Jan 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "It has been a long journey I enjoy re-living as I take note this year of the great Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday. As a practicing music critic and journalist from American corn country, I call myself a hick hack but I experience meltdown at almost everything the great man wrote. How can one not love Beethoven?"
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Judith Juaregui, based in Madrid but peripatetic in her concertizing around Europe, is gaining an international audience of admirers, boosted by the brilliant pianistic colors of her Debussy, Liszt, Falla, Chopin and Mompou in her fifth CD, “Pour le Tombeau de Claude Debussy”, just out. This album was recorded at a recital in Vienna last year, her first foray into live recording, and she is  rather pleased with the result, which, she says in our interview (below), captured a “moment of honesty”. She left everything in, including the vigorous applause from the audience."
Dec 11th 2019
EXTRACTS: "The young tousle-haired pianist from the distant Minnesota, Reed Tetzloff, is building a performance career in the U.S. and Europe by steering a course through rare repertoire that is both challenging and attractive for the listener........In our email question-and-answer discussion he explains his priorities as a musician and his attraction to a wide range of repertoire."
Dec 9th 2019
Extract: "Then the house lights came up and the rest of us rushed out, relieved that it was all over."
Nov 15th 2019
Extract: "Question: Mompou was modest, yet one of his famous comments is similar to Handel’s remark that he was writing down what God dictated. Mompou said he did not think up music, he simply transmitted it. Answer: The Mompou’s idea about God was interesting. God was a great force that also could destroy his own creation, like a child who in a moment of joy treads on an ant without noticing. Mompou explained that, in his case, the music was not coming from inside to outside, but the opposite way, from outside to the inside, with him being the intermediary of this flow, as a kind of medium. Mompou felt embarrassed to be called on stage after a performance of his music. He was convinced that if the work was really good, it was not entirely created by himself. 
Oct 27th 2019
Composer Kyle Gann’s new book ‘The Arithmetic of Listening’ analyzes microtonality and makes a plea for the music fraternity to open its ears to the new directions possible. After 22 years of teaching at Bard College in the eastern United States, Gann has become a guru or godfather of new music, and continues to produce captivating compositions, as in his new two-CD album ‘Hyperchromatica’. His latest book analyzes and explains tuning theory. In this interview he asserts that new music that gets the attention of publishers and producers today is mostly “derivative crap”. The golden age of “downtown” music from 1960 to 2000 assembled “a bunch of escapees from the twin hells of academia and corporate commercialism”.
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "A powerful new talent from Italy, Alessandro Deljavan, made his U.S. East Coast debut October 19, with a magnificent reading of the Brahms Piano concerto No. 2 under conductor Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra."
Sep 18th 2019
EXTRACT: "This is some of Ilic’s best work. A California native of Serbian extraction, he is emerging now as a major player in a crowded field."
Sep 8th 2019
Extract: "Chopin’s two piano concertos are among the most frequently recorded of 19th century works, both for their melodic charm, their pulsing rhythms and their historical significance. Young Chopin wrote the piano part with exceptional verve, showing the way for future composers to let the piano burst free from its orchestral surroundings."
Sep 8th 2019
Extract: "David Fray looked surprisingly alert when he arrived for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast interview at a comfortable inn outside of La Roque d’Anthéron in the south of France. We had both been at a midnight dinner following his performance at the famous piano festival. I left the dinner early with a colleague but he stayed till 3:00 chatting and laughing with the violinist he had just performed with, his friend Renaud Capuçon. Their Bach sonatas and a Bach piano concerto were the highlights of the evening. Over breakfast (David ate a bowl of chocolate-flavored cereal sweetened with ample spoonfuls of Nutella) we indulged a few minutes of smalltalk, then got down to business. He responded lucidly in French to some heavy questioning. He only stumbled once, at the end, when I asked him,  “What does music really mean to you?” His reply, ”That’s a big subject for so early in the morning!” But he continued searching for the words, and he found them."
Aug 31st 2019
François-Frédéric Guy was just finishing his 20th performance at the piano festival of La Roque d’Anthéron in the south of France. The 2,200-seat outdoor amphitheater was almost full as Guy displayed his love of Beethoven –playing two of his greatest sonatas, No. 16 and No. 26 (“Les Adieux”). After intermission, Guy took his place at the Steinway grand again and rattled the audience with the stormy opening bars of the Hammerklavier sonata. It was like a thunderclap, as Beethoven intended. The audience sat up straight and listened in stunned silence. There were more surprises to come. Guy’s first encore was the little bagatelle “Letter for Elise”. A titter ran through the amphitheater. Was he joking? He looked out over the crowd and smiled back. A few bars into the piece, total silence descended once again on the crowd as Guy brought out the depth and beauty of little “Elise”. Everyone thought they knew this piece by heart. They were wrong. No one had heard it quite like this. Huge applause erupted a few seconds after the last note. Several spectators near me wiped away tears from their eyes.
Aug 3rd 2019
Combining “telepathic improvisation” plus original instrumentation, two adventurous Australian musicians have just launched a digital album of 12 new pieces brimming with sounds never quite captured before in recordings. The pianist plays two expanded keyboards simultaneously while his partner meets his ideas on an 18th century cello. The result is a marriage of the new and the old with echoes ranging from Bach to Arvo Part. 
Jul 20th 2019
Extract --- Question: What is your view of stage antics of ambitious pianists – the swoons and hair-flicks (Khatia Buniatishvili), the miniskirts and six-inch heels (Yuja Wang), the eye makeup and winks to the audience (Lang Lang)? --- Answer: It’s all show-biz. All three of those pianists, though, really CAN play (though in varying degrees of success in varying repertoire). No matter how short Yuja Wang’s vestigial swath of skirt becomes, no matter how vertiginous her high heels, she knows her way around the ivories (I especially like her Prokofiev), and I think she makes music more fun for a wide variety of listeners. If she couldn’t play, all the short skirts in Christendom couldn’t save her career. Same goes with the emoting of Buniatishvili, and, of course, most of all, the ultimate showman, Mr. Lang, the classical world’s answer to Liberace.  
Jun 9th 2019
Australian pianist Shaun Hern Lee, 16, took first prize on Saturday in the final round of the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition following 12 days of eliminations and associated activities in Dallas, Texas.
May 25th 2019
  In a rare combination of artistic talents, pianist Jack Kohl offers seven erudite essays on great classical music compositions and his favorite readings, merging both to make an exciting volume of fresh ideas. Bone over Ivory: Essays from a Standing Pianist (Pauktaug Press, New York) puts on display Kohl’s background as a classical pianist and his lifelong obsession with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Along the way, we encounter Gershwin, Fitzgerald, Thoreau, Dickens, Beeethoven and Master Yoda of Star Wars fame, among others.
May 9th 2019
"On the day before he was to play his marathon concerts, Maestro Buchbinder sat down with me in the 'Teddy Bar' of the Grand Théâtre de Provence to discuss his love for Beethoven. He was relaxed and cheerful and spoke freely......An edited transcript of our conversation follows."
May 6th 2019
One of the more exciting piano experiences of recent years is the development of a 108-key grand piano in Australia, built by Stuart and Sons and expanded with additional octaves at bass and treble extremes. The sound is new and audiences who have witnessed it tend to erupt in standing ovations.  If you don’t live in southern Australia, you probably will not hear it in all its glory but it’s worth a detour. I have recently had the privilege of listening to a high-definition recording, at 96 KHz, to be exact, of the inaugural concert performed a few months ago. The effect of the expanded keyboard, known as the Big Beleura, is stunning to mind and body. I sat with a friend in his music room in Bordeaux, listening for an hour, flabbergasted.
Apr 16th 2019
It’s heresy to say this, I know, but the great masterpieces of the 19th century piano composed by Liszt, Schumann, Schubert and Beethoven sometimes leave me exhausted. The complex structure and concentrated emotion, the moods, the arpeggios and stunning fingerwork demand an effort to reach true appreciation.  And so when I first heard the new CD “Musiques de Silence”  -- interwoven selections of Frederico Mompou, matched with Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Henri Dutilleux, Frederic Chopin, Toru Takemitsu, Claude Debussy, Enrique Granados and early Alexander Scriabin – I felt a surge of relief. (Eloquentia EL1857).  The repertoire is selected and beautifully braided together by the rising young French pianist Guillaume Coppola.