I came across this video from the wonderful TED online lecture series several years ago. I've returned to it often.
Its long, about 32 minutes, but absolutely terrific. (In this case, the term "absolutely terrific" will be defined as -- "Oh, my God, this is so stunning I don't believe that life can be this amazing.") The talk is given by the great Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie, whose work I like a great deal, particularly on the xylophone. Now, mind you, I've never been one to particularly seek out percussion soloists, so when one does leap out and grab me, that speaks volumes. But much as I love her performances, I'd never heard her give a talk. This one is about sound, listening, music and art. And it is at times absolutely riveting. And those times are pretty much most of the entire 32-minutes. It's titled, "How to Truly Listen."
Now, here's the thing. This talk would be great on its own fascinating merits. Her details, her stories, her charm, her humor, her insight into art and sound, and her music examples. But it's all the more so when you realize that Evelyn Glennie is basically totally deaf.
Ms. Glennie lost most of her hearing at the age of 12. It's one thing while being deaf to make a career in music as a composer, as did, of course, Beethoven. But composing is solitary, and the sounds in one's head can be transferred to paper. Playing an instrument, and doing so within concert with other musicians is another matter entirely. Not necessarily harder or easier, but remarkable in its own way. In any regard, when you're in the company of the Beethovens of the world, you're in rarified air. But to be clear, what's so wonderful about this lecture isn't just that Evelyn Glennie is able to deliver it so magnificently -- but what she says, under any condition.
I have to give you a warning -- don't watch this until you have a half-hour free. You figure you'll watch a few minutes, and then she grabs you and you just keep listening. If you have to bookmark it now, fine. But if you can't watch it now -- save it. Do yourself a favor. It's that great. Trust me. I've sent this to numerous people, and thus far, not one has come back with anything less than pretty much -- "Oh, my God, this is amazing." (I am going on the assumption that "She is extraordinary" qualifies as being above "amazing.") One friend bookmarked the video, and didn't get to it for probably six months. But he finally did decide to, oh, well, okay, fine I'll watch. As proof that I'm not lying about people's reactions, here's what he wrote back:
I finally got around to watching this, and it blew me away. Even if she wasn't deaf, it would still be enlightening. Factoring in her ability to 'hear' the music through her body, it becomes truly inspiring. It's one of those things where I'm not sure I'll ever listen to music exactly the same way again.
Okay, see? It's not just me.
The lecture is the first 27 minutes, and then she gives an amazing 5-minute performance at the end. For those of you who simply know you absolutely won't ever watch a 32-minute video about listening, do this then: watch the first couple minutes just to see who Evelyn Glennie is (and force yourself to stop) and then jump forward to the 26-minute mark, see a minute of Evelyn Glennie and then watch her performance to close things out. It's that good.
But the whole thing is better. Otherworldly better. I really don't want to overpraise this, in getting people to watch. But honestly, I'm not. It's special. Truly special. Just at least check it out for one minute -- only, just make sure you have 31 more minutes handy. Five seconds in, you're likely to go, "Are you kidding me??!"
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