The Power of Music – How music can change the lives of deaf people

Music is truly powerful. It can inspire, invoke all ranges of emotion, gladden the heart and stir the soul; it can induce tears of joy and celebration, of sorrow and loss.

It can reach out and touch people. Nowhere is this more evident than in the on-going work of Music and the Deaf, the only organisation completely dedicated to bringing the world of music to anyone of any age, and degree, of hearing loss.

With almost ten million individuals in the UK with a hearing loss, Music and the Deaf – known as MATD – is a charity which occupies a valuable place in the world. MATD have music clubs in Manchester, Yorkshire and London. There is also a singing and signing choir in Huddersfield with plans to set up similar groups in Peterborough and Oxfordshire during 2014. In addition, MATD run practical workshops in schools. Anyone with a hearing loss can join, so too anyone with an interest in singing and sign language.

The charity are supported by a range of partners – Arts Council England, Yorkshire Youth & Music, Kirklees Council, Lions Club International and Hidden Hearing, which recently delivered an £8,000 cheque to MATD after a campaign throughout May saw £1 donated for every hearing test attended.

Danny Lane is MATD’s General Manager, having previously spent ten years as Education Projects Manager. But his association with the charity goes back significantly further than that – some 20 years, in fact. Danny has been profoundly deaf since birth, and as a 15-year-old met Music and the Deaf founder Paul Whittaker. The day Whittaker visited his school was the day Danny discovered a positive and long lasting new influence in his life. He’s well placed to understand can change the lives of deaf people.

“Paul was the first deaf person I had ever met in my life,” recalls Danny. “He changed my mind about how far I could go with music – if I wanted a music degree, there was no reason why I couldn’t! Paul was a profoundly deaf music graduate and he was a huge inspiration to me. One of the most important things about Music and the Deaf is that it provides excellent deaf role models who say, ‘if I can do it, so can you’. Paul did exactly that for me.”

“Music became an emotional outlet for me since I was eight years old,” he says. “I found it so difficult to socialise with my peers; I’d started to become withdrawn. But playing the piano helped to fill this gap. Performing in public helped me to overcome my nervousness and raise my self esteem. It helped to challenge audiences into thinking that deaf people too CAN become musicians. I played in brass bands, orchestras and ensembles, so I overcame that fear of communicating with others. I don’t think I’d be as confident as I am now without music.”

Danny’s journey, from struggling GCSE pupil, to graduating from the University of Keele with a degree in Music (and French), founding the West Yorkshire Deaf Youth Orchestra, and conducting at the Royal Albert Hall, is one which many of his students may seek to emulate. The opportunities are certainly there. A MATD group, The Hi-Notes Ensemble, won an award for their performance at the 2008 National Festival of Music for Youth.

Music and the Deaf have an ambitious strategy, and the profile of the charity is growing, becoming recognized internationally through working around Europe and influencing the creation of new groups in Singapore and the Dominican Republic. There are also plans to run activity programme across three states in Australia, expanding training programmes and setting up more community signing choirs.

“It has always filled me with pride to be involved at Music and the Deaf,” Danny says. “Watching people arrive for the first time and blossoming with confidence through music is always memorable. It’s wonderful to watch people, especially the young ones, holding a musical instrument for the first time and taking pleasure from it. It’s even more emotional to see them perform on stage for the first time, when at first they never dreamed of doing it themselves.”

For more information and news about MATD, visit their website.

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