NOTE: In January we will begin monthly posts featuring interviews with people who have talked with us about the music they love– music that has made a difference in their lives. If you have a story to share, please write to us at email@example.com or through the contact form here. We will keep your identity confidential when we use your story.
The celebration of Christmas is all too often saturated with endless, barely-noticed renditions of “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and so on. But for the promise of universal love and connection with fellow human beings to be truly realized, we have tried to think outside the box during this season.
So, for December, we bring you oneof the world’s pre-eminent percussionists, Scotland’s Evelyn Glennie, and the family of percussion instruments she plays so brilliantly.
First of all, what makes the family of percussion instruments so striking–in every sense of the word–is its global inclusiveness. As Mickey Hart, one time drummer of The Grateful Dead, observes in his 1990 book Drumming on the Edge of Magic:
“Nearly a century ago , in the parishes around New Orleans, people began dancing to the new beat of jazz and blues—drummers began ransacking the percussive inventory. They took elements from all over the planet–snares and bass drums from Europe, the tom-tom from China, cymbals from Turkey–and along with such homely additions as cowbells, anvils, and woodblocks invented a new kind of drumming, and, almost incidentally, a new instrument. This hybrid was known as a ‘contraption,’ later shortened to ‘traps’. ”
In fact, the wide array of tuned and untuned percussion instruments made of wood, metal, and skin is quite astonishing. To Hart’s list we can add timbales, claves, congas, bongos, marimbas, xylophones, tympani, hi-hat cymbals, splash cymbals, tubular bells, vibraphones, triangles, tam-tams (gongs), antique cymbals (crotales), and chimes.
We offer you here a remarkable TED video of Evelyn Glennie called, “How to Truly Listen.” She says at the outset, “My aim is really to teach the world to listen. That’s my only aim in life.”
As someone who started losing her hearing at age 8 and became “profoundly deaf” at age 12, Evelyn Glennie knows more than most of us what it means to overcome disabilities, how important nuance is to sound, and what it can mean when we say of another human being, “I hear what you’re saying–I hear you.” An essential part of this is the ability to really feel vibrations–“vibes.”
We would like to draw your attention to four defining moments in this video:
At 5:56 Glennie stresses the importance of listening to yourself, not being uptight, and avoiding detachment from an instrument by gripping a drumstick too tightly. Connecting with fellow human beings is fundamentally similar.
At 8:00 she talks about conversations at age 12 with her teacher, and hearing through not only the ear but also all other areas of the body. By the way, she always performs barefoot.
At 10;30 she touches on her initial rejection by the Royal Academy of Music because of her deafness and how she changed the status quo at all music institutions in the UK by forcing them to audition candidates on the basis of musical ability alone rather than dismissing them outright because of a disability.
12:42 brings some inspiring comments about music as daily medicine and the case of a 15-year-old listening through the floor to the resonators of a marimba.
Finally, it is worth noting that Evelyn Glennie serves as the ambassador of the Royal National Children’s Foundation, “which helps support vulnerable, disadvantaged young people at state and independent boarding schools throughout the U.K.” In December 2010 she climbed to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in support of the charity Able Child Africa.
Evelyn Glennie on How to Truly Listen
Our gift to you are these 2 bonuses:
Evelyn Glennie on Sesame Street
Evelyn Glennie, her personal story, and on being true to oneself
We hope you will enjoy gifting others with these inspiring messages.