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Evelyn Glennie is, in her own words, a “sound creator” – synthesizing everything you may have experienced about timbre, dynamics, vibration, movement, resonance, rhythm, harmonics, and more into an act of unbridled faith.
Grammy-winning solo percussionist, composer, and collaborator, Dame Evelyn Glennie has forged an eclectic career as an internationally acclaimed artist upon the independent spirit of her childhood in rural Scotland, her teenage audacity and courage as a profoundly deaf student at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London, and her limitless curiosity and genius in exploring how to “touch the sound” and accept the silence. In pursuing her personal musical journey, she has bestowed on her colleagues, her audiences, and her students the gift of an authentic voice that stretches to listen, create, collaborate, and communicate.
“Through my music,” she writes, “I’ve tried to break down barriers by pushing boundaries, bringing percussion out of the shadows and pushing my own limits as a sound creator. I’m passionate about music that allows me to continue pursuing this goal. Along the way I’ve learned to open up my body to a new kind of listening, which has made for some truly exciting performance experiences.”
Embraced by the world for her spirit as well as her talents for teaching, composing, performing, commissioning, writing and lecturing, Evelyn Glennie’s hearing loss brought her a deeper understanding of and connection to the music she loves. With American composer John Corigliano, the virtuoso recorded Conjurer, which earned the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo.
Evelyn Glennie brought her gift to us on February 16th when she graced the stage of Foy Hall presented by Moravian College Music Institute. Introduced this evening by collaborator, Sean O’Boyle AM, artist-in-residence at Moravian College, Evelyn removes her shoes, breathes in the atmosphere, absorbs the energy of the audience, surveys the array of percussive tools, and begins to fill the concert hall as easily as an intimate classroom.
I felt included in this audience of percussion students and music faculty as though part of a delicious experiment in music education, of which Evelyn is a champion. We are reminded that the musician’s goal is always to find more than what is transcribed on the page, to explore all the creative possibilities, and to make the journey personal and limitless.
Percussion, she tells us, allows the largest frequency range and flexibility of all instruments; thousands of possible surfaces, shapes, textures, materials, objects – “instruments of creation” like the exotic waterphone. The whole mind/body is the engine, the senses and the neuro-muscular system, the breath and the stillness, the motion and balance. Each venue presents varied acoustics, atmospheres, temperatures, lights, distances, humidity, surfaces; each audience variations in listening, awareness, stillness, anticipation. The metaphor is brilliant: “I’m painting sound to this particular canvas.”
Then, not a demonstration, but a revelation.
A graceful figure takes command of a five and a half octave marimba, polished wooden keys gleaming, four mallets poised to fly, a gleaming wall of resonators stretching to carry the sound vibrations throughout the concert hall. Sound. Stunning harmonics, shifting percussive dynamics, graceful sweeping of air and light. Dynamic listening that vibrates, pulsates, soars, strokes, and caresses. Sweetness. Grace. Memories of bells ringing, the smell of blooming flowers, whispers of spirit rising, the sensation of breath and prayer and peace. Motion, continuum, eternity.
Was it a familiar hymn? Was it a brilliant improvisation? Was there a choir hidden in the keys? How could my body and my collective memory have recognized and celebrated these sounds as my own? Did I hear weeping in the hearts of others or in my own? Are we finding joy, or beauty, or this astounding truth that Evelyn reveals to us:
“Focus, listen, engage all of your senses, touch the sound with your entire body, embrace the vibrations, enter the stillness. Listen to your own interpretation. Take your own journey.”
For those who were present and those we were not, Evelyn’s website offers entry to her life journey, her recorded work, and her mission to “Teach the World to Listen.”
This event is sponsored, in part, by PA Council of the Arts: Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts, and Moravian College’s Arts and Lectures Committee.
by Marilyn J. Roberts, PPA Coordinator