WNPR

Hartford Ensemble Celebrates Deaf Music

Mar 3, 2017

This year, the American School for the Deaf in Hartford celebrates its 200th anniversary. The school is the founding place of American Sign Language. 

The classical music ensemble Cuatro Puntos this week performed its concert series, Celebrating Deaf Music Culture from Beethoven to Present, in collaboration with the school.

“Squish” is a piece of music written for a deaf audience, and was the opening number in the concert at the American School for the Deaf.

Cuatro Puntos collaborated with an American Sign Language storyteller for the performance. 

As the ensemble played, Danielle Holdridge signed the tale of King Kong. In this version, the giant gorilla and his human love are both deaf.

Holdridge said music isn’t just for people who can hear. It’s also for people who can feel it.

"When I think of music, I don’t necessarily think of the auditorial," Holdridge said. "I associate it with what’s happening inside of me. Music is actually my favorite thing to interpret, or to change into sign language, because I can feel the music in my body."

During the performance, the audience grabbed balloons on the backs of their chairs so they could feel the vibrations from a percussionist’s snare drum.

The percussionist explained this is how deaf musicians hear music. They tell what note they’re playing by feeling how big or small the vibration is, and where it’s located on their bodies.

Executive Director of Cuatro Puntos and violist Kevin Bishop said playing music for deaf audiences has changed how he thinks about music.

"As professional musicians who have spent our entire life perfecting an art that we suspect is, you know, all about hearing -- to then, you know, dive in and learn about how even people who can’t hear can enjoy this, and take part in music, and play instruments... It’s a very different experience as a musician," Bishop said. "It really makes you think about how the people you are playing for are experiencing it."

The program included a piece by Beethoven, who lost his hearing in the middle of his composing career, as well as a piece from Connecticut composer David Macbride