As I was born deaf, I can't honestly say how my
experience of music and sound relates to that of a hearing
My understanding of music is based entirely on what I
read in the score, and on vibration. I have a strong
awareness of pitch, rhythm, and dynamic, though. I don't need to
"hear" a piece of music being played in order to understand and
appreciate it. I can get that from reading the score, though
obviously it's far more fun attending a concert and sharing that
experience with others. It's fun making music on your own, but far
more satisfying when it's a shared experience.
From the age of 12, I knew I wanted to help
other deaf people access and explore music - and those who live and
work with them. I started Music and the Deaf as a registered
charity in 1988.
We offer advice and support, lead workshops, do
talks, and provide training. For many years, we did signed theatre
and concert performances. We run music clubs and signing choirs,
and generally do whatever we can to promote music with and for deaf
We work with both deaf and hearing people. It's
important that hearing people are aware of the value of music for
deaf people, and that they can actually do it. Raising awareness is
Being able to show how the music fits together,
and conveying the meaning of the lyrics, is a challenge. I've
signed the Messiah a few times, which is great fun,
especially on Easter Day, and doing Bach's St John Passion
with the Britten Sinfonia at Norwich's Theatre Royal. I've also
signed for the Rambert Dance Company at the Edinburgh International
Festival and at the BBC Proms.
For a few years, I did some signed concerts
with The Sixteen, which was a challenge, because most of their
performances consist of polyphonic music, and it's often in
I speak and sign in British Sign Language. I
consider it useful being able to switch from speech to sign
depending on who I'm communicating with, but I do use interpreters
I've always had involvement in church music. I
was a chorister at Holy Trinity, Huddersfield, and had a very
traditional Anglican upbringing. I got into playing for services
and training choirs from the age of 12.
While I enjoy and value a good choral service,
I don't believe that worship should be a spectator sport for the
I love exploring liturgies and music from different
cultures and traditions. It broadens our world-view, and
makes us realise that we are part of a global Church. I've gained
much from Wild Goose resources, and from New Zealand hymnody and
liturgy. It deals with what I call "real, dirty hands" faith: about
God and the Church in the real world, and being socially aware and
I'm fortunate to be part of St Cuthbert's, Birkby, in
Huddersfield. It's a church that is very community-based,
has a broad range of liturgy, and welcomes variety and breadth.
Several composers inspire me, and for different
reasons. There's J. S. Bach, who wrote such phenomenal
music; Leonard Bernstein, for the sheer energy and variety of what
he wrote; Kenneth Leighton, whose organ and church music has such
immediate emotional impact; and James MacMillan, for wearing his
faith so openly, and whose imagination is just stunning.
I play piano and organ, and would love to be
able to play the cello. I like a wide range of music, and used to
listen to it a lot. If I've read the score and memorised it, I then
play CDs and put the vibrations I feel together with the memory of
the score to enjoy it.
I had a traditional Western classical music
upbringing, but that doesn't mean I spent all my time
listening to Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. I love musical theatre
and traditional jazz. As you've already gathered, there's some
contemporary music I enjoy - but there's a lot that makes me
thankful I'm deaf. My favourite band is Queen, and I was a huge fan
of Sky, the group that John Williams, Tristan Fry, Kevin Peek, and
others had in the late '70s and early '80s.
I'm the youngest of three children, all born
and brought up in Huddersfield. Dad died in December. He loved
listening to music, and was immensely proud of us. Mum still lives
in Huddersfield, and I see a lot of her. Mary is deaf: she's the
first deaf Church of Scotland minister, in Elgin. Anne is in
Dundee, and she's also a musician.
As a family, we always used to go to Sandsend,
near Whitby; so I have a soft spot for there. I adore Plockton and
north-west Scotland, and also Devon and Suffolk, and Mike and
Anthea's lovely cottage at Castlemorton Common, near Malvern. I
love exploring new places and finding wonderful B&Bs.
I'm drawn to the stillness of Wadham College Chapel,
Oxford. I spent three years there as a music
undergraduate, and the chapel has a calm and a sense of comfort I
find nowhere else.
My family influenced me, and Hedley Teale, my
music teacher at secondary school. Other influences: Paul
Herrington, Michael Green, and Bruce Gillingham at St Aldate's,
Oxford; Edward Olleson, my music tutor at Oxford; John Bell and Jan
Sutch Pickard of the Iona Community; James MacMillan. . . Even the
Women's Institute - a wonderful organisation, and one I love to
I do read a vast amount. I have piles of books
around the house, and not enough space for them, but can't bring
myself to get rid of many. I like reading quirky books like
Gulp or Consider the Fork - books that make you
see everyday things in a new way. I like biographies because I'm
keen to know what makes people tick. The New Zealand Prayer Book is
wonderful, as are many of Geoffrey Duncan's anthologies, especially
Courage to Love, an inspiring and challenging collection.
I read crime novels, and love Brideshead Revisited.
I love the work of Marc Chagall, and find it
Right now, I spend a lot of time praying for
Mum, my sisters, and myself, as our lives have changed so
radically. I also pray that the Church will be more accepting of
gay people, lay and ordained, and realise how anachronistic it
appears to modern society. There are far more pressing issues than
someone's sexuality, but so much hurt and pain has been caused over
the years. I've been on the receiving end of some of it, but I know
that others have had far, far worse experiences than mine.
Obviously, there are numerous things I'd like to ask
Jesus. Wouldn't we all? If I was locked in a church with
someone, I'd want someone I can actually have a dialogue with,
rather than being forced to listen to my companion's monologue. So
it would be either John Bell or James MacMillan. Stephen Sondheim
would be interesting. Marc Chagall. Stephen Fry. J. S. Bach. Can't
I have a dinner party instead?
Dr Paul Whittaker was talking to Terence Handley