Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Some Can't Hear, Some Won't Listen

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. ~ William Shakespeare

A couple of items related to the human ear struck me over the last few days.

Gallaudet University is the only liberal arts college expressly for the deaf in the country. It's been around since 1864 and has a long record of providing higher education to the deaf while helping them prepare to cope in a hearing world. Oddly enough, the university has only had two presidents in its history who were deaf. The first came in 1988 when students conducted protests to have a non-hearing president to run the school. The second is his successor, Ms. Jane Fernandes.

Unfortunately for her, according to the students, she is not deaf enough .

Okay, I freely admit that I am not deaf. I have known only one profoundly deaf person, and he was an expert lipreader. He was so good, in fact, that one would forget he couldn't hear. That would be good, except that I'd forget that he needed to see my lips and turn my head when talking to him. He had a quaint way of letting me know that this annoyed him. He'd grab my chin a la Milton Berle and whip my face back into position.

Therefore I don't pretend to understand all the concerns of the hearing-impaired.

But, Ms. Fernandes was born deaf yet grew up speaking. She didn't learn American Sign Language until she was 23. She is married to a hearing person, ironically a retired Gallaudet professor, and has two children who can hear. Apparently those are her sins. One of the professors opposing her said, “She does not represent truly our deaf community.”

I'm confused. What is their “deaf community?” Is it solely made up of deaf children of deaf parents? Do those children grow up and marry only other deaf people? Do they bear only deaf children? Do none of them speak?

(I know learning to speak is difficult for the deaf, but, as Ms. Fernandes shows, many do learn.)

What it seems to boil down to, if one reads the article, is that Ms. Fernandes is not very popular among teachers and students at
Gallaudet. Why is not clear. But, the students and faculty seem to be finding any excuse they can think of to have her removed. They have even raised race as an issue, complaining that there were no non-whites among the finalists.

Maybe Ms. Fernandes isn't the right person for the job, but it would be nice if people were more honest about why. “Not deaf enough” and “too white” are hokey reasons.

In other news, Ben Bova, noted science fiction author, wrote a little opinion piece
the other day lamenting the decline of music. I myself have commented on this topic before here and here. Mr. Bova does it better, but, hey, that's why he gets paid to write stuff, while I just blog away on my own nickel (and cheap at half the price, it is). At any rate, Mr. Bova is even older than I am, I guess, based on his favorite music, but I agree with him for the most part (except for the group Bread; lordy, they were dull). What really caught my eye was his discussion of how listening to classical music has declined. I couldn't agree more (I can't figure out how I didn't blog that at some time). What raised my ire was the comments posted in response to his article.

There were four or five of them, and they all essentially called Bova an old fogy. One, though, revealed just how pathetic people have begun. This would-be pundit announced that classical music didn't “speak” to young people today.

What a load of crap. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with its Ode to Joy, doesn't speak to anyone? Bach's Toccata and Fugue in d minor doesn't reach out and grab you by the scruff of the neck? Codswallop. This music is sending its messages as well as it ever did. The problem is that people have turned their ears off. You can't appreciate Copeland's Third Symphony while playing a video game. You don't feel the sea's surge in Sibelius' Second if you're surfing the web.

 
The fact is that great music, like great literature, takes time to hear and appreciate. And it takes your full attention. The same society that can scream about “your busy schedule” when peddling hair restorers has no time for restoring the mind.

There is no requirement that everyone like every great piece ever written. Clarinet sonatas give me the hives; opera and ballet are not on top of my list; and chamber music is simply too soothing. But, hearing Gershwin on the solo piano or a cello concerto will transport me, as well a powerful symphony. And people are missing this more and more.

Serious music (“classical” refers to a particular period) has been doing fine for 300 years or more. We can be thankful for the large number of recordings that have been made, because symphony orchestras are a dying breed. The people who will take an evening to sit and listen to them are literally dying off. But there's one hope.

I've noticed that many fine musicians are coming out of Asia. Some of the best young violinists in the world are Asian women. So, evidently, it will take Asians to save the traditions of Western music. If that what it takes, then I hope they continue. Because the music will continue to speak until there are those who have the sense to listen to the message.

There are those who cannot hear and those who won't. The latter are the ones deserving pity.

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