How to truly listen | Evelyn Glennie


I’m not quite sure whether
I really want to see a snare drum at nine o’clock or so in the morning. (Laughter) But anyway, it’s just great
to see such a full theater, and really, I must thank
Herbie Hancock and his colleagues for such a great presentation. (Applause) One of the interesting things, of course, is the combination of that raw hand
on the instrument and technology, and what he said about listening
to our young people. Of course, my job is all about listening. And my aim, really,
is to teach the world to listen. That’s my only real aim in life. And it sounds quite simple,
but actually, it’s quite a big, big job. Because you know, when you look
at a piece of music, for example, if I just open my little motorbike bag — we have here, hopefully, a piece of music that is full
of little black dots on the page. And, you know, we open it up … And I read the music. So technically, I can actually read this. I will follow the instructions,
the tempo markings, the dynamics. I will do exactly as I’m told. And so therefore, because time is short, if I just played you, literally,
the first, maybe, two lines or so — It’s very straightforward; there’s nothing
too difficult about the piece. But here, I’m being told
that the piece of music is very quick. I’m being told where to play on the drum. I’m being told which part
of the stick to use. And I’m being told the dynamic. And I’m also being told
that the drum is without snares. Snares on, snares off. So therefore, if I translate
this piece of music, we have this idea. (Drum sounds) (Drum sounds end) And so on. My career would probably last
about five years. (Laughter) However, what I have to do as a musician is do everything that is not on the music; everything that there isn’t time
to learn from a teacher, or to talk about, even, from a teacher. But it’s the things you notice when
you’re not actually with your instrument that, in fact, become so interesting,
and that you want to explore through this tiny, tiny surface of a drum. So there, we experience the translation. Now we’ll experience the interpretation. (Drum sounds) (Drum sounds end) (Applause) Now my career may last a little longer. (Laughter) But in a way, you know,
it’s the same if I look at you and I see a nice, bright young lady
with a pink top on. I see that you’re clutching
a teddy bear, etc., etc. So I get a basic idea
as to what you might be about, what you might like, what you might do
as a profession, etc., etc. However, that’s just the initial idea
I may have that we all get when we actually look
and we try to interpret. But actually it’s so unbelievably shallow. In the same way, I look
at the music; I get a basic idea; I wonder what technically might be hard,
or, you know, what I want to do. Just the basic feeling. However, that is simply not enough. And I think what Herbie said:
please listen, listen. We have to listen
to ourselves, first of all. If I play, for example,
holding the stick — where literally I do not let go
of the stick — (Drum sound) you’ll experience quite a lot
of shock coming up through the arm. And you feel really quite —
believe it or not — detached from the instrument
and from the stick, even though I’m actually holding
the stick quite tightly. (Drum sound) By holding it tightly,
I feel strangely more detached. If I just simply let go and allow my hand, my arm,
to be more of a support system, suddenly — (Drum sound) I have more dynamic with less effort. Much more — (Drum sound) and I just feel, at last,
one with the stick and one with the drum. And I’m doing far, far less. So in the same way that I need
time with this instrument, I need time with people
in order to interpret them. Not just translate them,
but interpret them. If, for example, I play just
a few bars of a piece of music for which I think of myself
as a technician — that is, someone who is basically
a percussion player — (Marimba sounds) (Marimba sounds end) And so on, if I think of myself
as a musician — (Marimba sounds) (Marimba sounds end) And so on. There is a little bit of a difference
there that is worth just — (Applause) thinking about. And I remember when I was 12 years old, and I started playing timpani
and percussion, and my teacher said, “Well, how are we going to do this?
You know, music is about listening.” And I said, “Yes, I agree with that,
so what’s the problem?” And he said, “Well,
how are you going to hear this? How are you going to hear that?” And I said, “Well, how do you hear it?” He said, “Well, I think
I hear it through here.” And I said, “Well, I think I do too,
but I also hear it through my hands, through my arms, cheekbones, my scalp, my tummy, my chest, my legs and so on.” And so we began our lessons
every single time tuning drums, in particular,
the kettle drums, or timpani to such a narrow pitch interval,
so something like — (Marimba sounds) that of a difference. Then gradually: (Marimba sounds) And gradually: (Marimba sounds) And it’s amazing that when you do
open your body up, and open your hand up to allow
the vibration to come through, that in fact the tiny, tiny difference — (Marimba sounds) can be felt with just the tiniest
part of your finger, there. And so what we would do
is that I would put my hands on the wall of the music room, and together, we would “listen”
to the sounds of the instruments, and really try to connect
with those sounds far, far more broadly
than simply depending on the ear. Because of course, the ear
is subject to all sorts of things. The room we happen to be in,
the amplification, the quality of the instrument,
the type of sticks — (Marimba sounds) (Marimba sounds end) Etc., etc., they’re all different. (Marimba sounds) (Marimba sounds end) Same amount of weight,
but different sound colors. And that’s basically what we are;
we’re just human beings, but we all have our own
little sound colors, as it were, that make up these extraordinary
personalities and characters and interests and things. And as I grew older, I then auditioned for the Royal Academy of Music in London, and they said, “Well, no, we won’t
accept you, because we haven’t a clue, you know, of the future
of a so-called ‘deaf musician.'” And I just couldn’t quite accept that. And so therefore, I said to them,
“Well, look, if you refuse — if you refuse me through those reasons, as opposed to the ability to perform and to understand and love
the art of creating sound — then we have to think very, very hard
about the people you do actually accept.” And as a result,
once we got over a little hurdle, and having to audition twice, they accepted me. And not only that, what had happened was that it changed
the whole role of the music institutions throughout the United Kingdom. Under no circumstances were they to refuse any application whatsoever on the basis of whether someone
had no arms, no legs — they could still perhaps play a wind
instrument if it was supported on a stand. No circumstances at all
were used to refuse any entry. And every single entry
had to be listened to, experienced, and then, based on the musical ability, then that person
could either enter or not. And so therefore, this in turn meant that there was an extremely
interesting bunch of students who arrived in these various
music institutions, and I have to say, many of them now
in the professional orchestras throughout the world. The interesting thing
about this as well, though — (Applause) is quite simply that not only were people
connected with sound — which is basically all of us — we well know that music
really is our daily medicine. I say “music,” but actually
I mean “sound.” Because some of the extraordinary
things I’ve experienced as a musician — when you may have a 15-year-old lad who has got the most
incredible challenges, who may not be able
to control his movements, who may be deaf,
who may be blind, etc., etc. — suddenly, if that young lad
sits close to this instrument, and perhaps even lies
underneath the marimba, and you play something
that’s so incredibly organ-like, almost — I don’t really have
the right sticks, perhaps — but something like this —
let me change — (Soft marimba sounds) (Soft marimba sounds end) Something that’s so unbelievably simple — but he would be experiencing
something that I wouldn’t be, because I’m on top of the sound. I have the sound coming this way. He would have the sound
coming through the resonators. If there were no resonators
on here, we would have: (Marimba sounds) So he would have a fullness of sound that those of you in the front few rows
wouldn’t experience, those of you in the back few rows
wouldn’t experience, either. Every single one of us,
depending on where we’re sitting, will experience this sound
quite, quite differently. And of course, being
the participator of the sound, and that is, starting from the idea
of what type of sound I want to produce,
for example, this sound: (No sound) Can you hear anything? Exactly — because
I’m not even touching it. (Laughter) But yet, we get the sensation
of something happening. In the same way
that when I see a tree moves, then I imagine that tree
making a rustling sound. Do you see what I mean? Whatever the eye sees,
then there’s always sound happening. So there’s always, always that huge — I mean, just this kaleidoscope
of things to draw from. So all of my performances
are based on entirely what I experience, and not by learning a piece of music, putting on someone else’s
interpretation of it, buying all the CDs possible
of that particular piece of music, and so on and so forth, because that isn’t giving me enough
of something that is so raw and so basic, and something that I can fully
experience the journey of. So it may be that, in certain halls, this dynamic may well work. (Soft marimba sounds) (Soft marimba sounds end) It may be that in other halls, they’re simply not going
to experience that at all, and so therefore, my level of soft,
gentle playing may have to be — (Marimba sounds) (Marimba sounds end) Do you see what I mean? So, because of this explosion
in access to sound, especially through the Deaf community, this has not only affected
how music institutions, how schools for the deaf treat sound,
and not just as a means of therapy — although, of course,
being a participator of music, that definitely is the case as well — but it’s meant that acousticians
have had to really think about the types of halls
they put together. There are so few halls in this world that actually have
very good acoustics, dare I say. But by that I mean, where you can
absolutely do anything you imagine. The tiniest, softest, softest sound
to something that is so broad, so huge, so incredible. There’s always something: it may sound good up there,
may not be so good there; it may be great there,
but terrible up there; maybe terrible over there,
but not too bad there, etc., etc. So to find an actual hall is incredible — for which you can play
exactly what you imagine, without it being cosmetically enhanced. So therefore, acousticians
are actually in conversation with people who are hearing impaired, and who are participators of sound. And this is quite interesting. I cannot give you any detail as far as what is actually happening
with those halls, but it’s just the fact
that they are going to a group of people for whom so many years, we’ve been saying, “Well, how on earth can they experience
music? They’re deaf.” We go like that, and we imagine
that’s what deafness is about. Or we go like that, and we imagine
that’s what blindness is about. If we see someone in a wheelchair,
we assume they cannot walk. It may be that they can walk
three, four, five steps. That, to them, means they can walk. In a year’s time,
it could be two extra steps. In another year’s time, three extra steps. Those are hugely important
aspects to think about. So when we do listen to each other, it’s unbelievably important for us to really test our listening skills, to really use our bodies
as a resonating chamber, to stop the judgment. For me, as a musician who deals
with 99 percent of new music, it’s very easy for me to say, “Oh yes, I like that piece.
No, I don’t like that piece,” and so on. And I just find that I have to give
those pieces of music real time. It may be that the chemistry
isn’t quite right between myself and that particular piece of music, but that doesn’t mean I have the right
to say it’s a bad piece of music. And you know, one of the great things
about being a musician is that it is so unbelievably fluid. So there are no rules, no right,
no wrong, this way, that way. If I asked you to clap —
maybe I can do this. If I can just say, “Please clap
and create the sound of thunder.” I’m assuming we’ve all
experienced thunder. Now, I don’t mean just the sound; I mean really listen
to that thunder within yourselves. And please try to create that
through your clapping. Try, just — please try. (Loud clapping sounds) (Clapping ends) Snow. (Laughter) Snow. (Soft clapping sounds) Have you ever heard snow? Audience: No. Evelyn Glennie: Well, then, stop clapping. (Laughter) Try again. Try again: snow. (No sound) See, you’re awake. Rain. (Light clapping sounds) EG: (Laughs) Not bad. Not bad. The interesting thing here, though,
is that I asked a group of kids not so long ago exactly the same question. Now — great imagination,
thank you very much. However, not one of you got out
of your seats to think, “Right! How can I clap? OK, maybe: (Clapping sounds) Maybe I can use my jewelry
to create extra sounds. Maybe I can use the other parts
of my body to create extra sounds.” Not a single one of you thought
about clapping in a slightly different way other than sitting in your seats
there and using two hands. In the same way, when we listen to music, we assume that it’s all being
fed through here. This is how we experience music. Of course, it’s not. We experience thunder, thunder, thunder. Think, think, think. Listen, listen, listen. Now, what can we do with thunder? I remember my teacher, when I first
started, my very first lesson, I was all prepared
with sticks, ready to go. And instead of him saying,
“OK, Evelyn, please, feet slightly apart, arms at a more or less 90-degree angle,
sticks in a more or less V shape, keep this amount of space here, etc. Please keep your back straight,
etc., etc., etc.” — where I was just probably going to end up
absolutely rigid, frozen, and I would not be able to strike the drum because I was thinking
of so many other things, he said, “Evelyn, take this drum
away for seven days, and I’ll see you next week.” So — heavens! What was I to do? I no longer required the sticks. I wasn’t allowed to have these sticks. I had to basically look
at this particular drum, see how it was made, what these little lugs did,
what the snares did. Turned it upside down,
experimented with the shell. (Drum sounds) Experimented with the head. (Drum sounds) Experimented with my body. (Drum sounds) Experimented with jewelry. Experimented with all sorts of things. (Drum sounds) (Drum sounds end) And of course, I returned
with all sorts of bruises. (Laughter) But nevertheless, it was such
an unbelievable experience, because where on earth are you going
to experience that in a piece of music? Where on earth are you going
to experience that in a study book? So we never, ever dealt
with actual study books. So for example,
one of the things that we learn when we are dealing
with being a percussion player as opposed to a musician, is basically, straightforward
single-stroke rolls. (Drum sounds) Like that, and then
we get a little faster — (Drum sounds) and a little faster — (Drum sounds) and a little faster,
and so on and so forth. What does this piece require? Single-stroke rolls. (Drum sound) So why can’t I then do that
whilst learning a piece of music? And that’s exactly what he did. And interestingly, the older I became,
and when I became a full-time student at a so-called “music institution,”
all of that went out of the window. We had to study from study books. And constantly, the question, “Well, why?
Why? What is this relating to? I need to play a piece of music.” “Well, this will help your control.” “Well, how? Why do I need to learn that? I need to relate it to a piece of music. You know, I need to say something. Why am I practicing paradiddles? (Drum sounds) Is it just literally for control,
for hand-stick control? Why am I doing that? I need to have the reason, and the reason has to be by saying
something through the music.” And by saying something through music,
which basically is sound, we then can reach all sorts
of things to all sorts of people. But I don’t want to take responsibility
of your emotional baggage. That’s up to you,
when you walk through a hall, because that then determines
what and how we listen to certain things. I may feel sorrowful, or happy,
or exhilarated, or angry when I play certain pieces of music, but I’m not necessarily wanting you
to feel exactly the same thing. So please, the next time
you go to a concert, just allow your body to open up, allow your body to be
this resonating chamber. Be aware that you’re not going
to experience the same thing as the performer is. The performer is in the worst possible
position for the actual sound, because they’re hearing
the contact of the stick — (Drum sound) on the drum, or the mallet
on the bit of wood, or the bow on the string, etc., or the breath that’s creating
the sound from wind and brass. They’re experiencing that rawness there. But yet they’re experiencing
something so unbelievably pure, which is before the sound
is actually happening. Please take note of the life of the sound
after the actual initial strike, or breath, is being pulled. Just experience the whole
journey of that sound in the same way that I wished
I’d experienced the whole journey of this particular conference,
rather than just arriving last night. But I hope maybe we can share
one or two things as the day progresses. But thank you very much for having me! (Applause) (Applause ends) (Music) (Music ends) (Applause)