Deaf artists take center stage in DSO concert

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Evelyn Glennie photo by Philipp Rathmer

Produktion Bärbel Recktenwald England

It’s expected to be a first for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra: three deaf artists, performing in front of an audience including others with hearing issues.

On Sunday night, “The Deaf And Loud Symphonic Experience” is blending genres and senses for a unique show aimed at broadening guests’ horizons and challenging the notion of what a concert can encompass.

“We’re trying to be a place where everyone can experience their world through music,” said DSO Vice President and General Manager Erik Rönmark. “It’s a mantra we live by. And we always try to find new communities that haven’t experienced the orchestra before.”

The event starting at 7 p.m. Sunday features world renowned percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, "America's Got Talent" finalist Mandy Harvey, and Sean Forbes, a hip-hop artist who co-founded the Deaf Professional Arts Network, or D-PAN

Sean Forbes

The nonprofit works to make music accessible to the deaf and hearing impaired and has since launched DPAN.TV, a Ferndale-based online streaming channel broadcasting news, videos and information.

The idea for the concert, which benefits D-PAN and is presented by Eminem publisher 8 Mile Style Music, emerged after connections between the performers, coordinators said.

Forbes has gained fame online and elsewhere for rapping using American Sign Language, or ASL. His story sparked interest from Glennie, who invited him and long-time collaborator Jake Bass to her home studio in the United Kingdom.

Bass and another music associate eventually approached the DSO with plans for an experience intended to immerse an audience that included the deaf, Rönmark said. “It was not something that we had thought of. We had done other projects like this, but nothing for the deaf and hard of hearing.”

Mandy Harvey

More than a year later, all of the pieces are in place to merge classical music, hip hop, pop and percussion.

The event features performances delivered in ASL accompanied by large screen videos showing lyrics in real time.

“I want people to experience music the way I’ve always presented it - performing it in American Sign Language, with visual lyrics behind me, and of course, loud and fun,” Forbes said in a statement. “And I also get to do this in my hometown, with the famed DSO, and on stage with legends and dames.”

Grammy Award winning Sly5thAve also is conducting arrangements. Performances are slated from  acclaimed musicians Jeff Bass and Luis Resto, and the Motown Museum is sponsoring a set arranged by music legend Paul Riser, organizers said.

Rönmark notes entertainers like Glennie and Harvey often perform barefoot or shoeless to sense vibrations, which the Detroit venue can enhance. “The reason the acoustics are so good is because there are vibrations in the hall that you can actually feel,” he said.

After the show, attendees have a chance to attend a “silent disco” with a vibrating dance floor and headphones for invited guests from the deaf community, organizers said.

The event could lay the groundwork for future series, Rönmark said. “We hope that this is not a one-time thing.”