Of silence and music

Channel hopping while munching lunch I accidentally came across a programme on Ruth Montgomery, a young musician preparing for solo performances with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic. The solo spot is a tremendously stressful role for any musician – indeed being the person standing out there in front of everyone else on a stage for any kind of performance is pretty stressful. I’ve done that a few times myself and it really does put the frighteners on you; first time I had to do it was a largely last minute addition to the school opera when I was about 16. Walk out from behind that curtain, light in your face, dark auditorium, the feel of two or three hundred people looking expectantly at you; mouth goes dry, confidence bids you adios and genuine shivers go down your spine. Then you do what you rehearsed to do and if it works the stress and fear vanishes to be replaced with elation. That doesn’t make it any easier the next time you have to do it though, you still go through the stress and fear and cotton mouth thing everytime, but that early experience paid dividends much later when I would have to walk in front of a few hundred folks and introduce a major author.

So yes, I can empathise how stressed she would be, at least to a certain extent. Ruth has another level of worry to add to what would be a worrying time already for any musician about to do their solo spot – Ruth is deaf. She has problems with an early rehearsal because the piano is in the wrong place so she can’t get close enough to the violins to feel them and can’t see the conductor’s movements clearly enough, something they simply hadn’t considered when setting up the stage. On hand was one of my favourite musicians and a personal heroine, Evelyn Glennie, one of the most famous soloists in classical music and again, a performer who is completely deaf. Watching both of them was a reminder, if any really be needed, that the real artist creates from within; deafness doesn’t stop feeling and it doesn’t silence that inner voice, a part that speaks without words in an inner dialogue with the artist, a dialogue they then translate into music, words, dance, paintings that other can share with. It’s not the physical abilities, its that inner dialogue and the feelings it creates; if you don’t have that then how can you communicate it to anyone else, regardless of whether you are a musician, a poet, a dancer?

And in one lovely little scene, as Evelyn is rehearsing her own spot you could see a wee deaf girl, just about 6 or 7, totally enraptured, her hands moving to copy Evelyn’s (anyone who has been to one of Eveyln’s performances will know she is pretty dynamic on stage, she doesn’t just play, she moves to the music she is making). It was just the most gorgeous scene, this little deaf lassie copying the deaf musician; it wasn’t just cute it was the realisation that this might be opening a door to a world this child had never really encountered before. And isn’t that one of the effects any artist longs to make on someone?