3 September 2020

Enjoying music as a deaf person


How many of you read our title and thought, ‘What?!’.

Go on – be honest. It’s an unusual one, isn’t it? Keep an open mind and read on. Music is not only a natural source of enjoyment for deaf people, it could benefit us even more than people who are not deaf.

First a few facts: D/deaf* people are likely to be at higher risk of mental health issues according to Deaf advisor, Lenka Novakova. She cites a 2017 report estimating levels of mental health issues as between 30 and 60% as opposed to 25% in the general population. And Action on Hearing Loss’s 2011 report, ‘Hearing Matters’, points out that even mild hearing loss can double the risk of developing dementia. Could music be part of the answer? John Hopkins University describes music as a ‘total brain workout’ saying ‘listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.’ And a Mind representative, Taryn Ozorio, describes how music can release 9% higher levels of dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ brain chemical. If you are D/deaf, being deprived of music would seem to be a double whammy for both well-being and mental health.

One organisation which understands this best is the charity, Music and the Deaf. CEO, Danny Lane is a musician who, as a young person, benefited from the charity’s support. He said that it gave him the confidence to continue studying music. He observed the inequality between the music offered to deaf and hearing children in schools and says ‘it’s been inspiring to be able to change that through all the projects we have run over the years, and to see deaf children using music as an outlet for self-expression, developing their self-confidence and improving their communication skills.’

In 2020 Arts Council England commissioned Music and the Deaf to produce a set of video blogs (vlogs) by deaf musicians aimed at inspiring D/deaf people and those with hearing loss to try music and enjoy it. It asked me to be involved. Access to the life-changing medium which is music is something close to my heart. I was delighted to agree. You can watch the captioned vlog here:

It is wonderful to be part of this ongoing project alongside fabulous young musicians such as Sophie Wiseman, a violinist. Her vlog describes the discipline and dedication she applies to mastering pieces such as Shostakovich’s Violin concerto. She says the music’s intensity and passion is what makes it her favourite.

I asked Danny Lane what he hoped to achieve with the new vlogs. He said: ‘They have been a wonderful way to promote deaf musicians and raise awareness of music and deafness online and around the world. We are keen to dispel the myth that deaf people cannot naturally enjoy music. There are musicians who perform in orchestras, work as music producers, composers and teachers – and they happen to be deaf too. All the musicians that we know of are diverse and their individual experiences of music are unique, so I hope this comes across in the vlogs too.’

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* ‘deaf’ with a lower case ‘d’ refers to deaf people who are spoken language users. Deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL) are conventionally referred to using upper case ‘D’ (‘Deaf’). This acknowledges the historical and cultural traditions of this distinct population in the UK, in the same way as we would write French or Polish and not ‘french’ or ‘polish’ in reference to members of those communities.

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