“Sliding on their sock-clad feet, a gaggle of children squeeze themselves under the belly of the Steinway as the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes invites them to place their palms on the soundboard and feel the vibrations. “When Andsnes launches into a stormy cadenza from the second movement of Beethoven’s 3rd Concerto, the children in their makeshift den squeal with delight and surprise.
“Some point to the pianist’s quivering trouser leg and his shiny black shoes pressing on the gold pedals. Others shiver at the strength of the vibrations that run through the gleaming grand piano into their bodies – a sensation that 11-year old Arijan Zagragja later describes by producing a loud and elongated “brrrrrr” while running his fingers over his body in a rippling motion.
“All of the eight- to 11-year-olds present in the Cologne Philharmonic have some sort of hearing disability and several of them, such as Arijan, are profoundly deaf. The children have been taken under the wings of the musicians of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra who, together with Andsnes, have launched Feel the Music, which aims to open up the world of music to hearing-impaired children across Europe.”
When the Guardian newspaper joined Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in Cologne in November 2012 they witnessed one of the first workshops in the “Feel the Music” project series. From small beginnings these workshops have since become an integral component of the Beethoven Journey – a four year recording and performing project dedicated to Beethoven’s piano concertos.
The project series invites hearing-impaired children across Europe to explore how music can be experienced with all senses. It thereby picks up on the subject of deafness, which increasingly affected Beethoven in the course of his life. In a three-day workshop, the children are introduced to the world of music, assisted by Leif Ove Andsnes, the orchestra, and experienced music educators. To date Feel the Music has taken place successfully in Brescia, Cologne, Brussels, London, Dublin, Prague and Bergen and has been awarded the 2013 European Education YEAH!Award.
This September Feel the Music continues with workshops in both Hamburg and Bonn. At the Beethovenfest Bonn the project moves to the next level: Partner classes that took part in Feel the Music projects previously will come together and perform in a concert with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. 50 hearing-impaired children from Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and Ireland will take part in this new project which coincides with the International Week of the Deaf. Alongside their rehearsals and performance in a signed song concert, the students and teachers from the different countries will also have opportunites for social exchange and networking during their four-day stay.
IN THE WORDS FROM THOSE INVOLVED
“It’s very rare that deaf children get the chance to work together with professional musicians, and especially with an orchestra. Not only does it open up a new world to children with hearing handicaps, it also takes musicians out of their comfort zones and makes them think anew about how they hear and understand music.”
Paul Whittaker, Founder of the UK charity “Music and the Deaf”
“I have to say that at first I was a little sceptical. I thought it was very radical and strange to imagine how one could work with hearing impaired children about music … It was very foreign to us at the beginning to imagine how we could communicate and what we could communicate. But after experiencing how the children react to the music I quickly realised I had been far too closed-minded.”
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
“When the pianist presses a key, the hammer strikes a string which then vibrates. The feeling runs up my arm and down into my feet. It’s all warm and fuzzy, and feels quite good,”
Fabian Schurf, 10 years old, Cologne 2012
“It’s amazing how much these children can perceive from music. I found it very fascinating how they could react to the music. They were very sensitive. When they played the piano, I found it extremely interesting that they were not just fiddling around, they we’re really trying to make sounds. The touch was very beautiful to see.”
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
“I feel the drums in my stomach and it makes the hairs on my arms bristle.”
Leon Zagrija, 9 years old, Cologne 2012
“Our ensemble travels around the world and performs with the best conductors and soloists. But this will probably be some of the most important work we will ever do. If you’re giving children with hearing disabilities access to a better way of expressing themselves through music, the experience can only enrich you as a musician and bring you closer to the music.”
Emma Schied, oboe
“Often people don’t realize that an instrument vibrates a lot when it is being played and that can be an incredible touch stimulation. if a child touches and trumpet or the under side of a cello they can have a very strong emotional reaction … I personally think that music for deaf children is as important for normal hearing children.”
Yannick Dondelinger, viola
“I had to rethink a lot of aspects of music and life with this project.”
Leif Ove Andsnes
May 2012: Brescia/Italien
Teatro Grande di Brescia
November 2012: Cologne/Germany
November 2012: Brussels/Belgium
Palais des Beaux Arts
May 2013: Prag/Czech Republic
Prague Spring Festival
November 2013: London/Great Britain
Blanche Nevile School for Deaf Children
November 2013: Dublin/Ireland
National Concert Hall Dublin
St Mary’s School for Deaf Girls