In May 2013, we ran a dissemination conference with the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). The conference was attended by D/deaf musicians and other people who felt excluded from participating in music because of their deafness. We presented findings from a three year research project into the use of vibrotactile feedback to aid interactive performance for musicians with a hearing impairment.
One lady in her sixties, speaking through a lipreading interpreter, told conference delegates of her experience of school music lessons. The lady explained how she was given a triangle and asked to stand up until the teacher pointed at her. She then hit the triangle and sat down; her ‘performance’ finished. She explained that she felt alienated and humiliated by this treatment and vowed not to engage with music again.
We had brought some vibrotactile equipment from the Acoustics Research Unit for the conference and I was desperate to get the lady to try it out, but when I approached her during the morning break she explained to me that as she was profoundly deaf there was no point in her trying the system out. At lunch time I asked her again but got the same response.
By the afternoon break she could see me coming and, I think, out of pity for me she agreed to try out the system. She sat down and placed her foot on the shaker unit that we had connected to a bass guitar and I played a few notes. She immediately removed her foot and looked at me in astonishment. She then returned her foot to the shaker and said “play more”. After a few minutes she looked at me and said “so that’s a guitar!”
We also had a shaker unit connected to an electric piano and she asked if she could try playing on it. As she played the notes on the keyboard she remarked “I can tell the difference between the black and the white notes.”
The aim of academic research is always to create impact outside of the laboratory. Prediction models and experimental measurement rigs are fascinating, but to see the look on that lady’s face was just priceless.