Posted by: Janice | December 1, 2007

Evelyn Glennie


Every Thursday, we have “Professional Development” class with Thomas. In other schools, this period would be all about honing auditioning skills, or polishing acting resumes. Not at Lispa. Instead, we spend an hour and a half every week watching films that, in one way or another, illuminate the richness of life around us.

Last week, we watched a documentary on the Scottish sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, a man who makes art in nature with only materials found in the environment. He would weave icicle shards like thread around rocks, or gather bright yellow dandelions to put in whirlpools. Sometimes, he would make these elaborate spiderwebs entirely from reeds. His creations are ephemeral, subject to the rhythms and whims of wild nature. Icicles melt, branches fall apart, and flowers get washed away. For Andy, this is simply part of the process “It feels as if its been taken off into another plane, another world…it doesn’t feel at all like destruction.” Wherever he goes, he tries to capture the essence of a place, and provoke you to “see something that you never saw before, that was always there but that you were blind to.”

Yesterday, we saw a documentary on Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist. For this woman, sound is life. She listens to the world around her by feeling its vibrations with her body, and it is almost as if she is the sound itself. As a child learning to play percussion, she would put her hands on the wall, belly against the drum, in order to feel the instruments resonate in her. The world is a continuous symphony of sounds and rhythms, and for Evelyn, there is no silence. As she travels around the world, playing and jamming with different people, I found myself starting to breathe and move in tandem. The camera slows us down, lingering on images as the sounds distill and amplify. When she lands in a Cologne airport, it trains its lens on the floor of the arrival lounge, letting us experience the wonderful cacophony of shoes and suitcases. In New York, jamming on a rooftop, the camera veers away to zero in on dripping water from a nearby radiator, the wrecking ball of a demolition site, construction workers, and flocks of pigeons swirling and diving amongst the buildings. We watch intently as an attendant slowly rakes the pebbles lining a traditional garden in Fuji City. The full onslaught of downtown Tokyo morphs into a quiet elevator, then suddenly erupts into a babble of voices and cooking food in a department store. I have experienced these environments before, yet I felt like these were different worlds. How could I have missed such extraordinary melanges of sounds? What more can I discover if I stop plugging myself into an ipod every time I am alone?

Most of the time, in everyday life, I find myself shutting down just because it is easier. It is easier to be insulated in my own world and go about my own business, zipping through the day without paying much attention to what is happening around me. Having grown up in a concrete jungle such as Hong Kong, I am used to wearing an urban armor, and now, I find it hard to let go. Watching Evelyn, I have come to the realization that it is a gift to yourself to be open and receptive all the time, to live by listening. To become a child again and have that eternal curiosity and wonder. To allow yourself be moved beyond what you think is possible.

One piece of music from the film has stayed with me. It was Evelyn’s duet with a pianist in Tokyo. She was playing the marimba, and the warm resonances of that instrument lapped like gentle waves in a midnight ocean, while the richness of the piano burned like embers, lighting the sky aglow for brief moments before disappearing into the waters. It was painfully beautiful, at once elegaic and mournful. The music reminds me of home, of the many nights I sat watching the ocean from my bedroom, of the times when I would lose myself in the bright lights of passing ships, imagining myself in worlds beyond.


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