International Solist -
OverviewEvelyn Glennie is considered one of the world's foremost percussionists and is the first and only full-time solo classical percussionist. The master of more than 1,000 traditional and unconventional percussion instruments from around the world has performed with a range of musical talents, from the Kodo Japanese drummers to Icelandic pop singer Björk, and with every major orchestra in America and Europe. Profoundly deaf (meaning severely impaired but not completely deaf) since the age of 12, the percussionist identifies notes by vibrations she feels through her feet and body; she insists her deafness is irrelevant to her ground-breaking, critically acclaimed work.
Evelyn Elizabeth Ann Glennie was born July 19, 1965, the only daughter of Isobel, a school teacher, and Herbert Arthur Glennie, a beef farmer. Raised outside Aberdeen, Scotland, Glennie and her two brothers helped on the family farm and, though her mother was an organist, didn't grow up in a particularly musical environment. She was a promising student of piano and clarinet as a child, and she was blessed with perfect pitch, the ability to identify or sing a note by ear. At age eight, Glennie started complaining of sore ears and hearing loss. Her condition steadily deteriorated, and by age 11 she needed a hearing aid, which she found distracting and later discarded. She continued to play music and found she could perceive the quality of a note by the level of the reverberations she could feel in her hands, wrists, lower body, and feet. Glennie counts as her major influences cellist Jacqueline du Pré and pianist Glenn Gould.
Percussion "Felt Right"
When she was 12, Glennie saw a schoolmate playing percussion. She started taking lessons, and, she told People, "... it felt right." She graduated with honors from London's prestigious Royal Academy of Music in 1985. She claims her deafness kept her from being caught up by social distractions and made her a better student, but she also realized it affected her ability to play in an orchestra, so she set her sights on becoming a soloist. In 1985 she made her professional debut; the following year she left for Japan to study the five-octave marimba for a year. Glennie's first decade as a professional solo performer was filled with milestones: first performance of a new percussion concerto, first time an orchestra had performed with a solo percussionist, first solo percussion performance at a festival or venue. In 1990 she met Greg Malcagni, a recording engineer, and the two wed four years later.
Glennie introduced her rendition of fellow Scot James MacMillan's Veni, Veni, Emmanual--described by Billboard as "a devoutly celestial concerto"--at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1992. She released a recording of the work the following year. In 1996 Glennie released Drumming, which she described to Billboard as "quite a personal album." She wanted to make a "raw, ... improvised" album using untuned percussion. Billboard critic Timothy White called her playing on the record "breathtakingly instinctive."
Glennie's twelfth solo release, Shadow Behind the Iron Sun,was released in 2000 and recorded under unusual circumstances. She and veteran pop producer Michael Brauer spent four days in a studio packed with every instrument Glennie played, exploring as many moods as possible, from dark and aggressive to light and happy. The improvised songs, which were all recorded on the first take, were titled after chapters in Eaters of the Dead,a Michael Crichton novel that Brauer was reading at the time. "With this project, there were no boundaries, no rules, no limits," Glennie was quoted as saying on her website, adding it was her favorite record so far. African Sunrise/Manhattan Rave, released in 2001 on Black Box Records, is a work by British composer David Heath that Glennie and the London Philharmonic Orchestra bring to life. On "Manhattan Rave," Glennie literally plays on trash (an assortment of sticks, oilcans, and bottles and pans) and "does her best percussion freakout. It truly is an amazing work, capable of raising the dead while remaining somehow 'accessible,'" according to All Music Guide's Thom Jurek.
Master of Timpani, Xylophone, Car Muffler
While countless pieces of music have been composed for the piano, violin, flute, or cello, few works have been written for percussion. In an effort to change that, Glennie has commissioned more than 80 new pieces to date, with projects constantly in the works. She actively pursues new composers and commissions more new pieces, on average, than any other solo performer.
Glennie has collected more than 1,000 percussion instruments, and there seems to be no end to what she is able to make music with. She is a master of common percussion instruments from around the world--marimba, xylophone, timpani, chimes, congas, steel pan, djembes, bodhrans, daiko drums, and many more. But she is also wildly inventive. She creates instruments herself, like an adapted car muffler she strikes with triangle beaters. She also has made music on common items such as a hospital bed, camera, wheel hub, garbage can lid, flower pot, and starting gun. Composer Django Bates wrote a piece for Glennie, which she played only with kitchen utensils, called "My Dream Kitchen." She designed a line of cymbals for cymbal company Sabian called "Glennie's Garbage" that are welded from sheet metal. Glennie, who played clarinet as a child, also began to add wind instruments to her repertoire, starting with Great Highland bagpipes.
Glennie tours extensively and exhaustively. She plays more than 100 concerts each year and has appeared across five continents. She plays on 20 to 50 instruments during each performance, "bounding," as Michael Walsch wrote in Time, "from instrument to instrument with the grace of a natural athlete." A Washington Post critic was almost as impressed by Glennie's physical show in concert--which he called the "Evelyn Glennie Workout"--as he was by "the subtle gradations of sound and color she brings to every phrase." In addition to the details of her music and instruments, Glennie pays attention to the non-musical details of her shows, performing in colorful, theatrical costumes and with thematically designed sets and lights. Because she feels the music through her feet, she prefers to play barefoot. In addition to about two tons of equipment, Glennie travels with her Gameboy video game player.
Did Not Want to Hear about Hearing
In addition to performing, Glennie and her husband have composed award-winning music for British film and television. She also hosted two series of her own television programs for the BBC, including one called Soundbites, which featured interviews and performances by musical guests. She has written two books for the marimba and a music education book for schools. Her best-selling autobiography, Good Vibrations, was published in 1985.
Glennie believes that her hearing impairment has no bearing on her position as a world-renowned percussionist, and she is reluctant to discuss the subject with interviewers. Although she is active in some 40 organizations for the deaf, such as a program that provides music-based therapy for hearing-impaired children, Glennie downplays her involvement, preferring to concentrate on elevating the art of percussion. She has achieved her goal, according to Symphony magazine: "Glennie is the one individual most responsible for the sudden emergence of percussion from the rear of the orchestra to front-and-center stage, both in fact and in public attention."
by Brenna Sanchez
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