Sunday, September 11, 2011

Libertango - Dame Evelyn Glennie

Eric Sammut created an arrangement of Libertango for marimba that almost every advanced student of that instrument plays at some point in their studies. It is so pervasive that I was quite surprised to hear an alternative arrangement - and a spectacularly good arrangement at that. The arrangement and performance is by Dame Evelyn Glennie and it is the featured video for the day.

The initial part of the arrangement suggests a familiarity with the Sammut version - the same weighted triplet form replaces the straight eighth notes of the ground - but it quickly moves on in directions never contemplated by Sammut. The syncopation in the latter parts of the first section catches the ear with its unexpectedness but it is the elegiac beauty of the middle section of her arrangement which is the highlight for me. Throughout, Dame Glennie plays with a wider and more variable volume (loudness) than most percussionists and the result is a heightened sense of musicality.

Remarkable as the music is, those who know the work of Dame Glennie know that the musician is even more remarkable. She became profoundly deaf at the age of twelve but went on to graduate with honors from the Royal Academy of Music in London and to successfully pursue a career as a percussion soloist appearing on stages around the world. In 2007, she was awarded Dame Commander of the British Empire, for her service to music and, in part, for her work toward extending education opportunities for physically limited students. Many find the talk she gave at a TED conference in 2007 to be a source of inspiration. I have included a video of that talk below today's musical video and encourage you to watch it.

I wondered how unusual it is to be a deaf musician. Ask a music lover to name a deaf musician and they will say "Beethoven." Ask Wikipedia and you will get a list of eighteen people (including Beethoven but not including Mozart who, inexplicably, is on the list). But when I checked each of those eighteen, it turns out that all but one had either lost hearing after a successful career as a musician or were "only" partially deaf. Guitarist Charles Mokotoff and Dame Glennie appear to be extremely unique in that they built careers as musicians while profoundly or severely deaf.

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