|Evelyn Glennie comes to Kodokan, Rickmansworth, December 19th 2002|
Photo courtesy of James Wilson
It was with some surprise that I received the e-mail from Germany requesting a Kendo lesson for the Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie, on behalf of Thomas Riedelsheimer the renowned German Film Director. It was to be scheduled for Thursday the 19th December.
It transpired that he is making a film about Evelyn called “HEART BEAT” about the quality and importance of sound and rhythm in our life and that this 90min film will follow Evelyn around the World.
Evelyn Glennie is well known for her incredible skills in almost every field of percussion like marimba, vibraphones or drumsets.
I should also point out that Evelyn is profoundly deaf and has been since the age of 12, but has overcome her hearing impairment through the help of her music. She works with her whole body and is normally barefooted.
Having run Kodokan for over 20 years, I have taught many students of different nationalities, creeds and races, but I have never actually taught students with disability or impairment. It has however crossed my mind on several occasions, that we as an Association don’t actually advertise the fact that we are ‘user friendly’ in this area and when we practice Kendo we actually impair our own hearing by the wearing of the men, which also limits to a degree the use of full sight.
I spoke with Gill Parker-Dodd about possible problems that might occur when teaching Evelyn, as Gill is a qualified Audiologist specialising in this field. The key it would seem, as I don’t do sign, would be in the fact that Evelyn is an accomplished lip reader and that I should present myself to her with the light on my face and squarely positioned in front of her at all times and speak clearly but at normal speed.
Thursday came and they all arrived, Thomas with light and sound engineers and Evelyn with her technician James Wilson who accompanies her on all of her concerts and performances around the World.
Evelyn is extremely pleasant and without the airs and graces that one can sometimes experience with celebrities. Her interest in Kendo stems from her trips to Japan where she has performed with Kodo and Marimba on numerous occasions. Her method of experiencing sound through vibration being felt in the various parts of her body, as previously mentioned, is well documented. Her autobiography “Good vibrations” has also been translated into Japanese being a top seller there. She is also extremely interested in the breathing methods, especially the wave factors and use of coordinated movement
My concerns about communication were turned around, as she says: “the problem is not with her, but with those who would try to categorise hearing impairment as something else”. If I didn’t know her hearing was impaired, I would never have been able to tell such is her response and articulation. She does lip read - excellently, but it is the level of communication that comes over most and sets her apart and communication was another aspect of Kendo that she wanted to experience.
The filming was undertaken in several parts and was a completely new experience for many of my students who were more than a little apprehensive and quite nervous to start with. However fellow instructors Michio Wise and George McCall were able to keep things well under control - many thanks to them for their assistance and calming influence.
While I began a basic induction into Kendo with James and Evelyn, Thomas filmed the group Kata practice. This was followed by a demonstration using Kata Swords given by George and myself.
Kiri-kaeshi was then demonstrated and practiced together with the students and the general filming ended with an impromptu shiai between selected pairs being filmed and refilmed with Evelyn and James looking on, with what can only be described as open wonderment.
After we had finished they said that they had not realised how powerful and graceful the movement of Kendo is: ‘when in full flight’ and that, although it looks quite straightforward and simplistic in the mechanics of movement, just how difficult it actually is.
The class ended and then the final part of the filming was concluded by Evelyn, James and myself, with further explanations, interviews and practical application of the fundamental that had been shown using both Boken and Shinai, thus providing the all important link to Kendo: the way of the sword.
All in all the two of them got on very well, Evelyn being the more fluid and more relaxed, which is what one would have expected from her vast experience. Being a top percussionist is one of the most energetic musical skills and physically demanding in the extreme, especially when you are one of the best in the world, as she undoubtedly is.
We are all looking forward to seeing the finished article, which should be due for release some time late 2003 “ coming to a cinema near you” although it will also certainly find it’s way onto television, as many of Thomas’s other production have. Evelyn, Thomas and James plus film crew would like to thank all the members of Kodokan for their generosity in allowing them to open the door on a fascinating world and Evelyn has expressed her desire to continue practice, when her busy schedule allows.
I think that the students also enjoyed the experience, as it’s not everyday you get to be a “ movie star”.
If you would like to find out more about Evelyn Glennie: check out her website: http://www.evelyn.co.uk/
We are ‘User friendly’ for all groups that fall into the categories of ‘impaired’ of sight or sound or with physical disability.
- Paul Budden, Kodokan