Evelyn Glennie: How to listen to music with your whole body


What sets certain presentations apart from others? Why is it that certain presentations leave the audience feeling motivated? It is achieved when the presenter accurately responds to an exigency and their audience. This is why Evelyn Glennie’s presentation is so inspirational. As a deaf percussionist, it would be easy for Glennie to use the sympathy card and work with pathos to generate a response from her audience. Though, in refraining from this option, it makes her presentation all the more inspiring. The underlying message in her presentation is to motivate people to listening to music using the entire body rather than just the ears. However, although her message may mean more to musicians, she proves this point to non-musicians as well through establishing a common ground or a common issue that there is more to everything than we are taught or initially see. Glennie begins her presentation by demonstrating that there is a difference between following written music and doing everything that is not on the music and not taught: a distinction between translation versus interpretation. Even as her demonstration on the snare drums and marimba establishes this point (proven when the audience laughs as they hear an obvious contrast in her playing), she justifies that music is more than what is written just as people are more than what we gather simply by judging how they look. She explains that as we need time to translate or get to know people, we need time to translate music beyond what is written: a point accepted by both musicians and non-musicians.

She later establishes her credibility and uses logos to further engage the audience. She shares a personal story that music institutions in the United Kingdom used to base acceptance on defining limits based on disabilities, but as she and other deaf musicians demonstrated actual musical ability, they were forced to change the system. This shows that even credited institutions support her point. At the same time, she shows that by using her approach, she has greater musical ability than musicians without disabilities.

Also, by using inclusive language and audience participation, she proves her point even further. She asks the audience to clap the sound of thunder, snow, and rain and proves that more exists than what people are taught. She observes that none of the audience members uses others techniques other than clapping with their two hands. She later supports this point by demonstrating how experimentation with ways to play the snare drums using hands, fingers, fists, jewelry, and different parts of the instrument expands the musical potential beyond what is written. She hints at this point asking the rhetorical question, “Where on earth are you going to experience studying books?” Through demonstrating her abilities and creativity as a great musician, the audience is left with no room to argue and is therefore inspired.

Irene Tsai


2 comments so far

  1. pipkin6320 on

    I’m glad she teaches this point. I’ve learned about this subject/ way of thinking but never knew it was someone’s career to teach about it. When I took piano I would learn the piece first as written. Then I would put the final touches on the piece. My teacher would make me describe what I would think was happening during the piece, the story line: flowers swaying, horses trotting etc. At first I always despised doing this and thought it was silly. But then I came to realize if I thought about my story line when playing the music a whole new piece would arise. I was playing the same exact piece exactly how it told me to, but something new was added. I think this is what Glennie was getting at. Added a little bit of yourself to your piece. This makes the music so much more enjoyable, pleasing, interesting. This biggest point is that no one else can do it for you; it must be added by you and on your accord.
    This is a good point Glennie teaches us, for think of what our music today would sound like if no individuality was added to a piece. Boring.

  2. Amanda on

    I thought this was fascinating — as a musician, I am always watching performances, and the best are always when musicians truly make a piece their own. When people really consider what the music means and tries to portray that in their performance, it makes the audience pay attention — they get more out of the piece because it has more meaning and emotion behind it.

    I think it is applicable to giving speeches or presentations as well. When someone is simply reading what they wrote, or relying on a powerpoint, the audience does not feel like they are getting to see a part of the speaker. When the speaker seems like they are speaking from the heart, and really portraying emotion (pathos) and trying to convey something through their body language and not just their words, the audience pays attention. Glennie’s speech was an example of how to engage the audience properly — by being an individual, she kept everyone’s attention and her point went a lot further than it would have if it just seemed that she was reading from a script.

    -Amanda Daniels

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