Column | The Search For Deaf Music

Ruth Montgomery

Ruth Montgomery

Deafness is respected outside the definition of disability. Deaf people are a separate linguistic community, with a separate shared experience, in contrast to that of hearing people. A lot of work by some groups supports and promotes Deaf history and Deaf culture. Sign language is just another communication method, it is not something to be fetishised or admired from afar (well, no more than any other languages are).

It is still important to feature Deaf musicians as part of this column because the mainstream music industry has not yet embraced Deaf performers on equal terms and it is often assumed (more than any other barrier) that being Deaf would prevent someone from experiencing/enjoying music, let alone being a musician.

There is a long history of Deaf or partially Deaf musicians and composers: Fauré, Beethoven, Backer-Grøndahl, Nico.

Few Deaf or partially Deaf musicians make it big in today’s music business: Evelyn Glennie, Ayumi Hamasaki, Mandy Harvey, Signmark… these are few and far between.

In my search for Deaf musicians, I came across some brilliant and underpromoted musicians, mostly in the classical and sound art fields. Where are all the female Deaf rock stars and Deaf DJs?

The first of this month’s promoted artists is the wonderful flautist Ruth Montgomery. Her visual interpretation of The Swan by Saint-Saens is one of my favourite of her YouTube videos.

Then, working within sound and visual art, is brilliant Damien Robinson, who creates installations that explore the “interplay between images, sounds and vibrations.”

Something that needs more respect internationally, is the work of the UK’s DeafRave crew. They are leading the way in promoting Deaf musicians and improving the experience for Deaf audiences. DeafRave is led by Deaf people and they not only put on stuff themselves but also teach production. Europe’s SenCity events also deserve a mention.

We’re told as young training musicians that the most important organ for a musician is the ear. This perception has to be altered somehow. Deafness does not prevent people from being a musician or being a music fan. Deafness is not a barrier, it is a different way of living life and from communicating with the world.

Anna Madeleine

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