Evelyn Glennie Listens to Sound without Hearing It
BEFORE YOU READ
• “God may have taken her hearing but he has given her back
something extraordinary. What we hear, she feels — far more
deeply than any of us. That is why she expresses music so
• Read the following account of a person who fought against a
physical disability and made her life a success story.
Author: DEBORAH COWLEY
1. RUSH hour crowds jostle for position on the
underground train platform. A slight girl, looking
younger than her seventeen years, was nervous yet
excited as she felt the vibrations of the approaching
train. It was her first day at the prestigious Royal
Academy of Music in London and daunting enough
for any teenager fresh from a Scottish farm. But
this aspiring musician faced a bigger challenge than
most: she was profoundly deaf.
2. Evelyn Glennie’s loss of hearing had been
gradual. Her mother remembers noticing something
was wrong when the eight-year-old Evelyn was
waiting to play the piano. “They called her name
and she didn’t move. I suddenly realised she hadn’t
heard,” says Isabel Glennie. For quite a while Evelyn
managed to conceal her growing deafness from
friends and teachers. But by the time she was
eleven her marks had deteriorated and her
headmistress urged her parents to take her to a
specialist. It was then discovered that her hearing
was severely impaired as a result of gradual nerve
damage. They were advised that she should be fitted
with hearing aids and sent to a school for the deaf.
“Everything suddenly looked black,” says Evelyn.
3. But Evelyn was not going to give up. She was
determined to lead a normal life and pursue her
interest in music. One day she noticed a girl playing
a xylophone and decided that she wanted to play it
too. Most of the teachers discouraged her but
percussionist Ron Forbes spotted her potential. He
began by tuning two large drums to different notes.
“Don’t listen through your ears,” he would say, “try
to sense it some other way.” Says Evelyn, “Suddenly
I realised I could feel the higher drum from the
waist up and the lower one from the waist down.”
Forbes repeated the exercise, and soon Evelyn
discovered that she could sense certain notes in
different parts of her body. “I had learnt to open my
mind and body to sounds and vibrations.” The rest
was sheer determination and hard work.
4. She never looked back from that point onwards.
She toured the United Kingdom with a youth
orchestra and by the time she was sixteen, she had
decided to make music her life. She auditioned for
the Royal Academy of Music and scored one of the
highest marks in the history of the academy. She
gradually moved from orchestral work to solo
performances. At the end of her three-year course,
she had captured most of the top awards.
5. And for all this, Evelyn won’t accept any hint of
heroic achievement. “If you work hard and know
where you are going, you’ll get there.” And she got
right to the top, the world’s most sought-after multipercussionist
with a mastery of some thousand
instruments, and hectic international schedule.
6. It is intriguing to watch Evelyn function so
effortlessly without hearing. In our two-hour
discussion she never missed a word. “Men with
bushy beards give me trouble,” she laughed. “It is
not just watching the lips, it’s the whole face,
especially the eyes.” She speaks flawlessly with a
Scottish lilt. “My speech is clear because I could
hear till I was eleven,” she says. But that doesn’t
explain how she managed to learn French and
master basic Japanese.
7. As for music, she explains, “It pours in through
every part of my body. It tingles in the skin, my
cheekbones and even in my hair.” When she plays
the xylophone, she can sense the sound passing up
the stick into her fingertips. By leaning against the
drums, she can feel the resonances flowing into her
body. On a wooden platform she removes her shoes
so that the vibrations pass through her bare feet
and up her legs.
8. Not surprisingly, Evelyn delights her audiences.
In 1991 she was presented with the Royal
Philharmonic Society’s prestigious Soloist of the Year
Award. Says master percussionist James Blades,
“God may have taken her hearing but he has given
her back something extraordinary. What we hear,
she feels — far more deeply than any of us. That is
why she expresses music so beautifully.”
9. Evelyn confesses that she is something of a
workaholic. “I’ve just got to work . . . often harder
than classical musicians. But the rewards are
enormous.” Apart from the regular concerts, Evelyn
also gives free concerts in prisons and hospitals.
She also gives high priority to classes for young
musicians. Ann Richlin of the Beethoven Fund for
Deaf Children says, “She is a shining inspiration
for deaf children. They see that there is nowhere
that they cannot go.”
10. Evelyn Glennie has already accomplished more
than most people twice her age. She has brought
percussion to the front of the orchestra, and
demonstrated that it can be very moving. She has
given inspiration to those who are handicapped,
people who look to her and say, ‘If she can do it, I
can.’ And, not the least, she has given enormous
pleasure to millions.
The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan
BEFORE YOU READ
• Do you know these people? What instruments do they play?
• Think of the shehnai and the first thing you’ll probably imagine
is a wedding or a similar occasion or function. The next would
probably be Ustad Bismillah Khan, the shehnai maestro,
playing this instrument.
1. EMPEROR Aurangzeb banned the playing of a musical
instrument called pungi in the royal residence for
it had a shrill unpleasant sound. Pungi became the
generic name for reeded noisemakers. Few had
thought that it would one day be revived. A barber
of a family of professional musicians, who had access
to the royal palace, decided to improve the tonal
quality of the pungi. He chose a pipe with a natural
hollow stem that was longer and broader than the
pungi, and made seven holes on the body of the
pipe. When he played on it, closing and opening
some of these holes, soft and melodious sounds were
produced. He played the instrument before royalty
and everyone was impressed. The instrument so
different from the pungi had to be given a new name.
As the story goes, since it was first played in the
Shah’s chambers and was played by a nai (barber),
the instrument was named the ‘shehnai’.
2. The sound of the shehnai began to be considered
auspicious. And for this reason it is still played in
temples and is an indispensable component of any
North Indian wedding. In the past, the shehnai was
part of the naubat or traditional ensemble of nine
instruments found at royal courts. Till recently it
was used only in temples and weddings. The credit
for bringing this instrument onto the classical stage
goes to Ustad Bismillah Khan.
3. As a five-year old, Bismillah Khan played gillidanda
near a pond in the ancient estate of Dumraon
in Bihar. He would regularly go to the nearby Bihariji
temple to sing the Bhojpuri ‘Chaita’, at the end of
which he would earn a big laddu weighing 1.25 kg,
a prize given by the local Maharaja. This happened
80 years ago, and the little boy has travelled far to
earn the highest civilian award in India — the
4. Born on 21 March 1916, Bismillah belongs to a
well-known family of musicians from Bihar. His
grandfather, Rasool Bux Khan, was the shehnainawaz
of the Bhojpur king’s court. His father,
Paigambar Bux, and other paternal ancestors were
also great shehnai players.
5. The young boy took to music early in life. At the
age of three when his mother took him to his maternal
uncle’s house in Benaras (now Varanasi), Bismillah
was fascinated watching his uncles practise the
shehnai. Soon Bismillah started accompanying his
uncle, Ali Bux, to the Vishnu temple of Benaras where
Bux was employed to play the shehnai. Ali Bux would
play the shehnai and Bismillah would sit captivated
for hours on end. Slowly, he started getting lessons
in playing the instrument and would sit practising
throughout the day. For years to come the temple of
Balaji and Mangala Maiya and the banks of the Ganga
became the young apprentice’s favourite haunts where
he could practise in solitude. The flowing waters of
the Ganga inspired him to improvise and invent raagas
that were earlier considered to be beyond the range
of the shehnai.
6. At the age of 14, Bismillah accompanied his
uncle to the Allahabad Music Conference. At the
end of his recital, Ustad Faiyaz Khan patted the
young boy’s back and said, “Work hard and you shall
make it.” With the opening of the All India Radio in
Lucknow in 1938 came Bismillah’s big break. He
soon became an often-heard shehnai player on radio.
7. When India gained independence on 15 August
1947, Bismillah Khan became the first Indian to
greet the nation with his shehnai. He poured his
heart out into Raag Kafi from the Red Fort to an
audience which included Mahatma Gandhi and
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who later gave his famous
‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech.
8. Bismillah Khan has given many memorable
performances both in India and abroad. His first
trip abroad was to Afghanistan where King Zahir
Shah was so taken in by the maestro that he gifted
him priceless Persian carpets and other souvenirs.
The King of Afghanistan was not the only one to be
fascinated with Bismillah’s music. Film director
Vijay Bhatt was so impressed after hearing
Bismillah play at a festival that he named a film
after the instrument called Gunj Uthi Shehnai. The
film was a hit, and one of Bismillah Khan’s
compositions, “Dil ka khilona hai toot gaya ...,” turned
out to be a nationwide chartbuster! Despite this
huge success in the celluloid world, Bismillah
Khan’s ventures in film music were limited to two:
Vijay Bhatt’s Gunj Uthi Shehnai and Vikram
Srinivas’s Kannada venture, Sanadhi Apanna. “I just
can’t come to terms with the artificiality and
glamour of the film world,” he says with emphasis.
9. Awards and recognition came thick and fast.
Bismillah Khan became the first Indian to be invited
to perform at the prestigious Lincoln Centre Hall in
the United States of America. He also took part in
the World Exposition in Montreal, in the Cannes
Art Festival and in the Osaka Trade Fair. So well
known did he become internationally that an
auditorium in Teheran was named after him —
Tahar Mosiquee Ustaad Bismillah Khan.
10. National awards like the Padmashri, the Padma
Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan were
conferred on him.
11. In 2001, Ustad Bismillah Khan was awarded
India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.
With the coveted award resting on his chest and
his eyes glinting with rare happiness he said, “All I
would like to say is: Teach your children music,
this is Hindustan’s richest tradition; even the West
is now coming to learn our music.’’
12. In spite of having travelled all over the world —
Khansaab as he is fondly called — is exceedingly
fond of Benaras and Dumraon and they remain for
him the most wonderful towns of the world. A
student of his once wanted him to head a shehnai
school in the U.S.A., and the student promised to
recreate the atmosphere of Benaras by replicating
the temples there. But Khansaab asked him if he
would be able to transport River Ganga as well.
Later he is remembered to have said, “That is why
whenever I am in a foreign country, I keep yearning
to see Hindustan. While in Mumbai, I think of only
Benaras and the holy Ganga. And while in Benaras,
I miss the unique mattha of Dumraon.
13. Ustad Bismillah Khan’s life is a perfect example
of the rich, cultural heritage of India, one that
effortlessly accepts that a devout Muslim like him
can very naturally play the shehnai every morning
at the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
The wind blows strongly and causes a lot of destruction.
How can we make friends with it?
Author: SUBRAMANIA BHARATI
Wind, come softly.
Don’t break the shutters of the windows.
Don’t scatter the papers.
Don’t throw down the books on the shelf.
There, look what you did — you threw them all down.
You tore the pages of the books.
You brought rain again.
You’re very clever at poking fun at weaklings.
Frail crumbling houses, crumbling doors, crumbling rafters,
crumbling wood, crumbling bodies, crumbling lives,
crumbling hearts —
the wind god winnows and crushes them all.
He won’t do what you tell him.
So, come, let’s build strong homes,
Let’s joint the doors firmly.
Practise to firm the body.
Make the heart steadfast.
Do this, and the wind will be friends with us.
The wind blows out weak fires.
He makes strong fires roar and flourish.
His friendship is good.
We praise him every day.
Online Lessons with Spoken text and correct pronounciation