Josh Groben “Sound is the key to our hearts”.

Imagine how Chanel No. 5 might have turned out had Coco Chanel’s master perfumer Ernest Beaux lost his sense of smell. Or what “Guernica” might look like if Pablo Picasso’s eyesight had failed.

In music, a progressive loss of hearing proved to be a curse for countless musicians, from Faure to Smetana. Of course the most famous composer who went deaf was Ludwig van Beethoven. By the time he died at age 56, Beethoven had been unable to hear for more than half his life.

The connection between music and hearing will be explored on Canterbury Choral Society’s 2011-12 season finale. Titled “Experiences With Sound,” the concert hopes to raise awareness about people with hearing loss.

Canterbury is to offer a multi-sensory aspect to the concert. A large screen suspended over the stage will offer visual representations of music as it’s being performed.

Also planned is a video featuring celebrities ranging from Placido Domingo to Josh Groban who discuss the importance of hearing, part of “Hear the World” initiative. The program’s featured soloist is Valerie Zamora, a concert pianist with severe hearing loss.

“This concert will celebrate music in all of its forms — creation, vibration and acoustics,” said Canterbury artistic director Randi Von Ellefson. “It’s about informing people of the importance hearing plays in appreciating the art of music.”

The music of Beethoven will anchor the concert’s first half: “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage,” an 1815 work for chorus and orchestra; the “Choral Fantasy” of 1808 for solo piano, chorus and orchestra; and the first movement of Beethoven’s final piano sonata, composed in 1822.


“People often ask me if I have a greater understanding of Beethoven but I was playing a lot of Beethoven before I ever knew about his hearing loss,” Zamora said recently.

“It’s possible I could have special insights because of my hearing, but who’s to say?”

To illustrate Beethoven’s awareness of his progressive hearing loss, this concert will feature a reading of a document known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament.” Beethoven wrote this letter to his brothers in 1802 but never sent it. It was discovered among his papers after his death in 1827.

“It was impossible for me to say to people, ‘Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf.’ Oh, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection,” Beethoven wrote.

Zamora’s hearing loss became evident by the time she was 4 months old. As a child, she compensated by finding her own way to comprehend language and to hear sound. Zamora also realized she had perfect pitch, an asset that would have a positiveimpact on her musical career.

“I hear some things very acutely and then there are other things that I can’t hear at all. I developed a very keen sense of sound that I was able to hear. I can go to the piano and pick out anything I hear but I understand speech through inflection.”

In assembling Canterbury’s season finale, Ellefson wanted to feature works that would represent the full range of audible sound. Brahms’ “Alto Rhapsody,” which will feature mezzo-soprano Lori Bade, is scored for men’s chorus and orchestra. In contrast, Judith Willoughby will conduct “Tundra” and “Gloria,” two works by Ola Gjeilo for women’s voices.

To end the concert, Canterbury will give the Oklahoma premiere of Stephen Paulus’ “Voices of Light.” Commissioned by Westminster Choir College in celebration of its 75th anniversary, this 2001 work features texts by 13th century women mystics.

“We don’t think about hearing because it’s something that’s with us all the time,” Ellefson said. “I hope this concert will make people aware of all types of sound around them. It’s really quite a miracle.”



Published: March 4, 2012  Read more: 

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