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Nov 26 / Ruth Montgomery blogspot

My visual performance experiment

At my performance opportunity last month I wanted to show the audiences my relationship with music; how British Sign Language (BSL) can influence my thoughts for interpreting music.  There’s colour, speed, direction, dynamics, emotions and so on already in BSL that automatically influences the way I sound on the flute.

For an example I composed a flute solo piece called ‘Toby’s Dreamland’ which is basically a story about a little boy going to sleep and dreams about being in a hockey match. Although he encountered problems with another team that had the ball, he managed to get himself back in the lead again and scored a goal.

I pre-recorded myself signing the whole score, and showed it on screen without any vocal sound, and minimal lip pattern, my facial expressions and hands controlled the volume and the speed of the music. I played my flute along with the pre-recorded movie.  As it was my first attempt at it being filmed using my friend’s iphone  and although there are some room for improvement I think it was a success and for me, a thoroughly enjoyable process.  I am currently writing more of these BSL music.

Music in Colour
Sometimes performing music isn’t always about BSL, but colour.  I believe many performers especially with synaesthesia can get a sense of colour in the music appearing in their thoughts as they play – and this is something that comes naturally to me.  I pretty much associate colours with mood.  If there is a happy, lively and light piece for an example then naturally perhaps will I get a sense of pastel greens/yellow colours entering my mind.  So in my next experiment I composed  a ‘study-like’ piece of flute solo in A-B-A form.  The A section was lively and spiky, whereas the B section was slow and warm, almost reflective.  So two colours come to mind – yellow and red.

I bought a cheap overhead projector (OHP) on ebay for £18.  I wrote my piece of music out and got my father to paint the music showing it flow and exactly where I was while I played on my flute.  I called it ‘Scherzino’ meaning ‘playful’.  As I am still new to the OHP experiment, I realised that only food colouring will show its colour, not the paint. However I will explore various stained glass ink to broaden my colour choices next time.


As my father Roger is a musician himself, guitarist and composer, he uses Sibelius software a lot in his work.  He sent me an arrangement of ‘Annie’s Song’ by John Denver for Flute and Guitar via ipad. It has words and a nice steady beat.   So another idea was to show the score using Sibelius on screen and when I press ‘play’ the blue moving-line that guides you to where the beat/rhythms are.  I thought it would be an interesting way to show the audiences about reading music and listening. I know that many of the audiences may not have any experience with reading music but I explained to them how it all goes and work before I started playing along with my father providing the accompaniment.


My next idea was to finger-spell Brahm’s lullaby.  By that I mean each note I play I finger spell it. The tune was in the key of F major and all of the notes in one octave were used. That’s F, G, A, B(flat), C, D, E, F.  I will upload a video of this soon, and I was pleasantly surprised to receive so much praise and approval on this one from the audiences – deaf and hearing.

Last, but not least – another way of making music accessible to the audiences is providing them with ‘subtitlies’. These ideas were inspired from stagetexts in theatre and subtitles on television.  I will sometimes see words like [telephone ringing….ringing…ringing..]  [Police car screeches] when there are no spoken sounds.  So in my last part I thought people may like the ‘subtitles’ to my father’s composition of ‘El Caballo’ (The Horse) which describes the journey by horse and rider going through town and country landscape, the sounds that flute/guitar does shown in the picture on the right.  Our kind volunteer could read music and helped to roll on the words as we played on.

I thoroughly enjoyed all this creative ideas and experimenting with media, paints, ipads, lights, sign language and so on. The main thing for me was to keep the standard of music as high and as original as possible.  Perhaps graduating from a Music Conservatoire and coming from a family that has a very strong attitude to listening and appreciating good quality music, I realise that music needn’t be modified or even simplified for the deaf audiences just because they have a hearing impairment. All we need to do is enhance the experience through other senses.


The performance was held at the Deaf Cultural Centre, Birmingham on Friday 18th October as part of the Deaf Explorers ‘Sunset’ event.


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