Evelyn Glennie is the world’s first full time solo percussionist, whose mission in life is to teach the world to listen. Her TED talk entitled “How to truly listen” has been viewed almost five million times. And if that wasn’t remarkable enough, take a peek at the description or presenter bio for that TED talk and you’ll discover that Evelyn actually lost almost all her hearing at the age of twelve.

One might assume that a deaf musician must just be playing from memory or from instructions – which would make it a strong example of the kind of “robotic playing” we often talk about getting away from on this show. But Evelyn actually represents the polar opposite – her deep focus on listening and feeling each and every note makes her a prime example of just the kind of truly intentional, expressive playing that we celebrate and seek to encourage here at Musical U.

Evelyn has given deep and careful thought to the topic of listening – and sound, and music, and how our relationship with each of these can transform our lives and the lives of those around us.

From her TED talk to provocative sound art installations to YouTube teaching videos and of course her professional performing career, Evelyn’s work just sparks of passion, creativity and wisdom – and so to say we were eager to pick her brains about musicality and the listening skills of music would be a huge understatement!

In this conversation we talk about:

  • The remarkable way her first percussion teacher introduced her to the instrument and helped her connect intimately and instinctively with all that it could do
  • How thinking about your performance as a “sound meal” can be the gateway to providing a more compelling experience for your audience
  • Why musicians who get very good at “musical listening” in the specific, concrete, practical ways can actually lose sight of a far more fundamental and important kind of listening.

Like the best musical performances, we think Evelyn’s comments in this interview will hold you rapt as you listen – and then leave you with a lingering sense of wonder and curiosity to bring back into your own musical life.

Photo credit: Jim Callaghan

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We interview Evelyn Glennie, an internationally-acclaimed solo percussionist who lost most of her hearing at a young age, on the art of "musical listening".