What does music sound like when you are unable to hear it? Just because someone is unable to hear sound does not mean that they are unable to hear and enjoy music the same way hearing people can. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals can not only create beautiful pieces of music, but love music and make it a big part of their lives. For example, Beethoven, who was a musical inspiration and a phenomenal composer, became deaf later on in his life. However, this did not stop him from composing more music. He “listened” to the vibrations that the piano gave while he was playing it.
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Similarly, deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals feel the music through the vibrations of the floorboards, instruments, floors and walls. For example, percussion instruments create strong vibrations that are felt throughout the body. As long as they can feel the vibrations, they can feel the rhythm of the music and enjoy it just as any hearing person would.
Even with that said, there is still a stereotype floating around believing that deaf and hard of hearing people cannot hear music and are unable to enjoy it. Many people become skeptical when they are told that a musician or a member of a band is deaf, asking themselves how that individual can play music.
The perception of musical vibrations by the deaf and hard of hearing is every bit as real as the sounds that is heard, as they are processed in the same part of the human brain. Vibrational information essentially has the same features as sound information; in a deaf individual’s brain the vibration area of the brain would replace the other processing area. This is done through the rewiring of the brain to process vibrations in the absence of music.
Even though deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are unable to hear or hear very little, does not mean they cannot enjoy concerts and music videos. But some venues often refuse to provide interpreters to attendees who require one. Interpreters are those who are fluent in American sign language and in concerts they stand on the stage, translating the lyrics of the song for those who require it.
Other times, they take time in addressing accessibility concerns until the very last minute, making the event unenjoyable for some. Sometimes artists refuse to subtitle performances on multimedia platforms, that are vital for their deaf fans to enjoy the music that they love. And as a result they cannot fully experience the meaning behind the song.
Image Source: American Sign Language
Because of these refusals, the deaf community feels the music that they are supposed to enjoy are not presented to them in their native language –American sign language (ASL). With the desire to tap into musical culture, the deaf community began creating music videos in ASL. Musicians became inspired with this movement. Sean Forbes focused his work on making music videos in ASL and created a network for the Deaf called D-PAN, the Deaf Performing Arts Network. He described D-PAN as being a form of cultural expression.
The language of ASL evolved and it has taken a lot of different forms with the growing popularity of ASL in music videos. One of the struggles that emerged from this was all the different forms of the ASL language that was created. People often argued over what sign is considered right or wrong.
These disagreements show how ASL varies across the country, how lyrics have different meaning to each individual and how deaf individuals have differing experiences. As the deaf and hard of hearing individuals have the ability to experience music in ASL, they can develop a culturally and more meaningful relationship with music that goes beyond vibrations.