Christopher McElroy

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Life as a musician with a hearing impairment

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Perhaps the best known deaf musician in the world today is Dame Evelyn Glennie , the Scottish internationally renowned percussionist. She is not however, the only person with a hearing impairment who enjoys making music. In the UK alone, there are 9 million deaf people (1 in 7 of the population!) who interact with music in a variety of different ways, whether listening to it or taking an active part in it. (Check out the excellent charity Music and the Deaf.)

Being a musician was not the career choice I dreamed of growing up as a young lad in Liverpool! My passion in my early teenage years was sport – football and rugby in particular. However, a series of nasty injuries put a stop to that. So what does an injury prone sports mad 15 year old do next? Well, take up the organ of course!

As a regular church goer I had always been fascinated by the power of the organ, and I was lucky enough that my school had two organs that were used every day in assembly. Known as the ‘King of Instruments’ the organ offers a much wider scope than any other instrument, in fact it can (and does) replace an entire orchestra! As the organ can make very loud noises, there is never any danger of not being able to hear myself play!

Once at university I became interested in conducting choirs. It is here that I perhaps approach my work in a slightly different way to fully hearing people. In addition to listening as best I can to what I hear the choir singing, I am also very conscious of watching choir members faces. It is said that a picture can represent a thousand words – often when people are having difficulty with a particular passage, or are trying to shape something in a musical way, they express this in their faces and in their body. I find eye contact between myself and my choir a vital aspect of what I am trying to achieve. Sometime I have my singers ‘mime’ so that they can focus on expressing what they are trying to communicate with their faces.

I have been fortunate enough over the past fifteen years to work with young people in New Jersey, West Yorkshire and Liverpool, leading them in singing on a daily basis. The joy on their faces more than makes up for the lack of hearing I have!

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