Oregon Symphony uses new tech in concert for deaf kids
Tuba belches out a brassy baritone.
French horn, he honks. Trombone slinks through the melody.
With Oregon Symphony musicians on the bandstand, it's already an extraordinary performance in an ordinary Portland Public Schools auditorium.
And though it might break the conductor's heart to say it, today, colors carry the tune — swinging high and low, hot and cold — dancing a visual caper across electronic reader boards.
Wow! This concert in Portland allowed deaf and hard of hearing kids to experience Oregon Symphony music, thanks to a collaboration with local nonprofit CymaSpace. Find the full story on news stands today! pic.twitter.com/sXtRspxz0L— Portland Tribune (@ThePortlandTrib) October 3, 2019
The pulsating light displays make music tangible, which is precisely why 300 students from the deaf and hard of hearing community have gathered for a first-ever collaborative concert organized by the symphony and local nonprofit CymaSpace.
"I have faced a lot of barriers in trying to experience music," signed CymaSpace founder Myles de Bastion, according to an interpreter. "I decided to set up my own nonprofit organization to break down those barriers and encourage the art culture and community to be more inclusive."
Students from the Oregon School for the Deaf in Salem and Columbia Regional Program in Portland bused in for the concert at Grout Elementary on Southeast Holgate Boulevard, on Tuesday, Sept. 24. Other pupils attending Tucker Maxon school walked across the street.
Glen Gilbert, the executive director of Tucker Maxon, said the schools have varied ideologies about whether deaf students should learn how to sign, speak or a mix of skills.
Despite their differences, seeing all three schools under one roof reminded Gilbert that "there is no wrong way to be deaf."
The brass quintet trotted out a range of selections from high and low culture — think "Contrapunctus" by Johann Sebastian Bach, paired with the theme song from the Mario Bros. video game. Not everyone recognizes the selection of "Maria" from "West Side Story," but you can bet they know "The Imperial March" that introduces Darth Vader.
Small clip-on microphones are attached to the spouts of two trumpets and the other three instruments in the quintet, allowing the notes to be analyzed by a computer program, operated by de Bastion, that tracks the modulations of sound and translates it onto the different projections and light boards.
Joe Berger, who has been playing the French horn for the Oregon Symphony for 31 years, said the recital isn't much different from a performer's perspective. But the instruments might be "a little more separated, a little more articulated."
A director at the symphony, Monica Hayes, said the partnership with CymaSpace had been in the works since August.
"We reach a lot of people in the community," she said, "but we've never reached out to the deaf and hard of hearing community before."
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