This assembly asks children to think about the challenges faced by deaf musicians and mentions both Beethoven and Dame Evelyn Glennie
Lloyd Coleman is a 17 year old musician, conductor and composer whose achievements are all the more remarkable due to the fact that he is partially sighted and deaf. Now he has been offered a place at Oxford University to study music – and to achieve his dreams for a life doing what he loves.
Today we’re going to be talking about music: not just listening to music but writing it (which is called ‘composing’) and playing it, too.
What do you think you’d need to be good at to be able to write and play music so that it sounds good and people enjoy it? [Take suggestions]
Yes, those are some very good answers. Not surprisingly everyone has assumed that to be good at music you need to be able to hear music – but that’s not necessarily the case.
There have been a number of celebrated deaf musicians over the years.
Now we’re going to listen to a very beautiful piece of music called ‘Moonlight Sonata’ by a man who lived 200 years ago called Ludwig van Beethoven. [Play music]
Beethoven wrote that lovely piece of music when he was 31. He began losing his hearing when he 26 – a terrible blow for an up and coming musician. But he continued to write and perform music. Another of his very famous pieces of music is his Ninth Symphony. He conducted this music with an orchestra but when he had finished he had no idea of the raptorous applause from the audience. A member of the orchestra had to get him to turn round: it is said than when Beethoven saw – but could not hear – the cheering crowd, he began to cry.
So how could he ‘hear’ his music? Many talented musicians say they ‘hear’ music playing in their heads. We all do that a bit, don’t we? We hear tunes in our heads but we can’t always sing them or play them the way that we hear them! Beethoven used a piece of metal attached to his piano and would put the piece of metal between his teeth. Why on earth do you think he did this? Can you guess? [Take suggestions]
By putting the piece of metal between his teeth, he could feel the vibrations from the piano – he would actually feel the music.
Dame Evelyn Glennie’s story
Another musician who feels the music is Dame Evelyn Glennie [show picture]. She is a famous and talented percussionist musician. This means she plays instruments that you have to strike to make a noise. Can you think of any instruments like that? [Take suggestions]
Yes, drums, tambourines, xylophones – and she even plays the bagpipes! She often plays music barefoot, so she can feel the vibrations of the music coming up through the stage.
Lloyd Coleman’s story
And today we’re going to hear about a special young man, Lloyd Coleman, who is becoming a famous musician and composer at the age of just 17. [Show picture]
Lloyd was born deaf and also partially sighted. When the doctors first told his mum, Julie, about her baby, these were her thoughts:
‘I was absolutely devastated. It was as if all the air had left my body. I thought, “What on earth is life going to hold for him now?” Never in a million years did I ever imagine that Lloyd would become a composer and a conductor.’
But then something amazing happened: although Lloyd only spoke a few words like ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, he started to sing. His mum says:
‘I would sing him nursery rhymes, and then he would hum them and sing them from memory with perfect pitch. As he learned to talk, he continued to sing with a wonderful, lilting voice.’
When Lloyd went to school he struggled to see the board. So he picked up his little desk and placed it at the front of the room, a few inches from the board. His teachers wore microphones so the sound could be transmitted straight into his hearing aids.
Lloyd also became fascinated with the piano at school.
‘One day, when Lloyd was just five years old, he sat down in class and drew a series of lines and large black circles,’ says his mum. ‘When the teacher asked what it was, he told her he had written some music. She was so stunned that she took his composition to the headmistress. It was a complete mystery to me, because no one in our family was musical, and we never played classical music at home.’
But other aspects of school life were harder. Lloyd hated football because he couldn’t see the ball and playtimes were difficult because he couldn’t hear what his friends were saying with all the background noise. Lloyd says:
‘From the start, my parents told me that I couldn't see or hear as well as my classmates, but they insisted that I was no better or worse off than them. I never once felt sorry for myself because that would just be a waste of time.’
His mum and dad decided to encourage his musical ability and they bought him an electric keyboard for Christmas.
‘He would run home from school and play music for hours on end. With his hearing aids in, he could hear the notes clearer than he could hear speech. By the time Lloyd was 12 he had reached grade eight with distinction, and his teacher said she had taught him all she knew. He took up the clarinet at the age of ten and within just three years he again passed grade eight with distinction.’
Lloyd had also continued to compose. He kept notebooks in his pocket and would scribble down the music that came into his head.
‘The music just came to me like a tap that wouldn't switch off. I noticed, in the school orchestra, that I could hear music far more clearly than I could hear anything else. The wonderful sound of the flute and the tuba, in particular, seemed to cut right through my deafness.’
When Lloyd was 14 he won a place at music college. But the college was in Manchester and it meant leaving his home in Wales – a challenge for everyone, but particularly for someone who was deaf and partially sighted. Lloyd took it in his stride.
‘It was tough saying goodbye to Mum and my family, but I didn't stop to feel scared because I was just desperate to go out and prove myself. One of my heroes has to be Beethoven, because he composed some of the greatest music ever without being able to hear.’
It was hard for his parents, too:
‘I remember taking him to catch the train back to school, and he couldn't hear the announcements at the station, and couldn't see the departure board. It made me realise just how isolated he really is.’
But Lloyd doesn’t see it like that.
‘If anything, my disability has made me even more determined to achieve. I would hate to be known as ‘Lloyd Coleman, the blind and deaf composer and musician’, because my problems with my hearing and vision have nothing to do with the music I play and my dreams for the future.’
And this week Lloyd found out that he has been offered a place to study music at Oxford University.
‘I never expected to be given the chance to go to Oxford. I thought I wouldn't get in, and when the offer came through, I was absolutely staggered. I need to get three A grades in my A-levels, but it just means that I'll have to work really hard to achieve my dream. After all, when you set yourself goals in life, they are easy to achieve.’
Something that holds true for all of us.
Thank you for giving us determination to overcome difficulties in our lives and to rise up to meet new challenges. Amen.
ReflectionLloyd is determined to be known for what he’s good at – not the things he can’t do.
- Lloyd is a member of UCAN, the Unique Creative Arts Network for visually impaired young people
- Information about Beethoven in this assembly was taken from Wikipedia's article on Beethoven.
- Information about Lloyd Coleman in this assembly was taken from this article.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2010
About the author: Jane A. C. West