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At A Special Show, 3 Deaf Musicians Want You To Hear Them Roar


Three remarkable musical artists will share a stage in Detroit tomorrow night.


SEAN FORBES: (Rapping) My name is Sean, but they call me Seen. Got a message here I'm deliverin'.

SIMON: That's rapper Sean Forbes. Then there's Mandy Harvey, who stunned the crowd at her debut on last year's "America's Got Talent."


MANDY HARVEY: (Singing) 'Cause all I see is you holding me forever.

SIMON: And Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish percussionist who famously plays barefoot so she can feel the music through the floor.


SIMON: All of these remarkable artists who happen to be deaf will join the Detroit Symphony Sunday night for the "Deaf And Loud Symphonic Experience." Sean Forbes and Dame Evelyn Glennie join us now from the studios of WDET in Detroit. Thank you both very much for being with us.

FORBES: Thank you.

DAME EVELYN GLENNIE: You're welcome.

SIMON: And we are speaking to them with the help of an interpreter that they have there in the studio. Sean Forbes, you've been on our show before. Welcome back.

FORBES: Yes, I have. Thank you for having me back again.

SIMON: Our pleasure. A lot of people would say that you and Dame Evelyn come from different musical worlds - rap and orchestral music. How did you two get together?

FORBES: Well, first of all, I've known about Evelyn pretty much my entire life. You know, as a deaf musician, we're a small breed. And she has definitely, you know, been the pioneer. Evelyn reached out to me and said, you know, would you like to get together and talk about collaborating on something? I'm definitely excited about this collaboration with her because it's so unique, what we're doing.

SIMON: Dame Evelyn Glennie, we note that you and Sean are from different musical worlds, but do you also find some similarities in what you do?

GLENNIE: Absolutely. I mean, at the end of the day, musicians create sound. So it doesn't matter whether you play paper and comb, or on accordion, or you sing or play percussion or a clarinet. The point is, is that we create a sound story or a sound meal. And this type of collaboration is a classic example whereby we're not thinking about classical music or hip-hop or anything else. It's just really keen musicians coming together. We have the extraordinary Detroit Symphony Orchestra with us. It's a great combination of the raw hand and that imagination coming together and using technology as an extension of what we do to make this event really inclusive, really accessible, really interesting at the top level.

SIMON: We're lucky to have some arrangements for the Detroit Symphony that were created by Detroit composer Jake Bass. And he sent us a synthesizer mockup, Sean, of your song, "Hammer," to give people an idea of what your music will sound like with a full orchestra. Let's listen, if we could.


FORBES: (Rapping) Take it to the mat. Never surprised. Always energized. Long ago, I made up my mind.

SIMON: Mandy Harvey, who's also on your program, says that she was criticized after she was on "America's Got Talent" for promoting a hearing activity. I wonder if you've ever received that kind of criticism.

FORBES: When I found out that, you know, she got attacked for, you know, promoting hearing or promoting whatever that was, I never looked at it like that. I looked at it like, you know, here is somebody that loves music. She suffered a hearing loss at - I think she was, like, 18 years old. I mean, I can't imagine living your whole life, loving music and then all of a sudden, one day, it's gone. You know? For me, my hearing loss was very gradual, but it was gradual over the course of between me being born and 2. So I don't remember ever hearing anything. So, you know, at the end of the day, we're just musicians that want to get onstage and have fun and put on a good show.


FORBES: (Singing) Backstage.

CHRISTINA AGUILERA: (Singing) It's kind of lonely.

FORBES: (Singing) Backstage.

AGUILERA: (Singing) New York or California.

FORBES: (Singing) Backstage.

AGUILERA: (Singing) It's almost showtime.

FORBES: (Singing) Backstage.

SIMON: How will people who have difficulty hearing experience the show in the audience?

FORBES: The whole show is going to be in sign language. So we're going to have sign language performers for all of the songs. You know, I'm going to be signing, in American Sign Language, my own songs. So really, I mean, all of these different elements are coming together to create a very unique experience. Behind us, we're going to have visuals that show the words. We're going to highlight certain instruments at certain times as you're playing. So, like, when Evelyn is doing a solo, you're going to see it.

GLENNIE: I think also - if I may - you know, when you can see facial expressions, when you can see that movement of a violin bow, or the percussion and the trumpeters and so on, it's quite a different experience. And, you know, when you are in that collective, you know, you're sitting or you're standing by someone else, that energy is fed off from one audience member to the other. So, you know, any performance is very much the kind of experience of the audience, too. They are the participators, as well as the musicians on stage. So together, we're kind of making this event happen.

SIMON: Dame Evelyn, you'll have your shoes off?

GLENNIE: (Laughter). Well, I've only brought one pair of shoes with me to Detroit. So probably, yes.


SIMON: I mean, it's cold. I just want to point that out. All right?

GLENNIE: Well, we're not playing in a church or a cathedral or anything. So stone floors.


SIMON: I'm so glad both of you could be with us. Sean Forbes, Dame Evelyn Glennie. They perform with Mandy Harvey and the Detroit Symphony tomorrow night in the "Deaf And Loud Symphonic Experience," and proceeds benefit D-PAN, the Deaf Professional Arts Network. Thank you both very much for being with us. I hope we have you back soon.

GLENNIE: You're welcome.

FORBES: Thank you.


Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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