Camille Saint-Saens is credited with the first use of mallet percussion in an orchestra in 1874.
The video is a performance piece by the famed percussionist Evelyn Glennie and guitarist Fred Frith (he of Henry Cow) improvising in a vacant factory. Glennie is internationally noted for her use of mallets, the striking sticks used to play a number of instruments like the marimba and the zylophone. Glennie is stunning to watch in concert, and what makes it more intersting is that since she was twelve, she has been profoundly deaf. Which goes to show that what we might consider as a barrier, a disability, an impediment or block may not necessarily be so. Glennie is on record (see her TEDx talk, also on Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=383kxC_NCKw ) as saying that deafness is misunderstood, and that she used other parts of her body to learn to listen.
In a twist of irony, the malleus or hammer shaped bone is a part of the ear, which for Glennie, is parallel to her work in percussion. The musical mallet is used to strike an object, an instrument, in order to create a vareity of sounds that will be heard. The act of striking is an intentional process, persistent, rhythmic, hopeful, that a sound will be yielded by wood, skin, or metal, that can be heard.
I am struck (no pun intended) by the idea, and the reality, that you can train yourself to listen with different parts of the body. Some of this we know – in some forms of meditation we are learning to listen with the heart, and also the body as a whole. Music can evoke a range of emotions too that enable us to listen deeply and with different parts of the body, the skin included. My heart races with some music, whereas with some other types of music my heart is overcome, other music makes me warm, or gives me goosebumps, sometimes I have different feelings around pieces of music, for me there is always a bodily reaction. For the musician it can be an ecstatic response, have you ever noticed of someone who is playing an instrument just how emotionally connected they are with what they are playing?
Clearly, if you have a passion for something, then that can sometimes help you overcome difficulties in order to follow and achieve that passion. And passion opens the door to the heart. Besides, we commit more to what we really love and enjoy most. If you have a passion for something, your heart is already deeply engaged, so that it is not just will power or intellect that drives you. Music also has an advantage in this as it is considered to be healing in its own ways.
How I see it, we need to open our hearts to that which can move and transform us, to find that which potentially heals us. We need to get in touch with what our passions are, and we need to deeply listen with out bodies. As passion strikes at our heart, just like percussion mallets, the door to healing and creativity opens, then, who knows what can happen? For Evelyn Glennie, percussion was a way to both listen, and to be creative, and in spite of her profound deafness.