Beating the odds 

Persistence is percussionist Evelyn Glennie's forte

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts." -- Winston Churchill

Although Scottish virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie has possessed only limited hearing since age 12, she wants audiences to focus on her music rather than her deafness. The attitude is summed up in her succinct advice: "Approach things from strength, not need."

"When you talk to her, she does not play up the fact that she is legally deaf," says Atlanta percussionist Michael Cebulski, who admires Glennie's success. "She's had to use different learning strategies, so she has overcome a lot that people don't think about. Evelyn has a charisma about her in performance that I see in rock stars, [and] in percussion circles, especially younger students, she is perceived as a star. It's been a long process, and it hasn't just been given to her. She's earned it."

Glennie's remarkable 20-year career in the music business as performer and composer includes nearly two dozen CDs; books, film, television and DVD projects; musical instrument and jewelry design; collaborations with a host of performance artists such as Naná Vasconcelos, Kodo, Bela Fleck, Björk, Bobby McFerrin and Sting; and more than 70 awards, including two Grammys. Most recently, she has added appearances as a powerful motivational speaker to her roster of creative activities.

"One of the reasons why I have started motivational speaking is to try to put a broader perspective on what [we] actually do," says Glennie in her articulate, melodious Scottish accent. "Playing an instrument is only a small aspect of what the reality is of being a musician. By the time they're 30, most musicians just see music-making as a job. I do feel fortunate that there is enough diversity in what I do to keep everything interesting."

Glennie personally owns more than 1,800 instruments, sometimes traveling with 2 tons of equipment to perform her concerts. But for her upcoming recital at the Schwartz Center, Glennie's program requires comparatively little roadie work.

"The concert in Atlanta is what I call a 'minimal' recital," says Glennie. "By that I mean there is no pianist, and very, very few instruments on stage. It's mainly concentrating on marimba, and just a few pieces on other instruments. I like this challenge. It is very unusual for me to have so few instruments and mostly to concentrate on a few bits and pieces."

For example, "Temzacal" by Javier Alvarez is simply for maracas and electronic tape, but requires from the performer mastery of several Latin American folk rhythms. Vinko Globokar's "Corporel" is entirely performed on the percussionist's own body. Glennie's own "Icefall" is a free improvisational work drawn from her Shadow Behind the Iron Sun CD, created with American pop producer Michael Brauer.

"I really do get a tremendous kick out of improvised concerts, for example, my collaborations with Fred Frith [composer/experimental guitarist]. This is a chance really for me to be put on the spot as far as what I have inside of myself at that particular moment."

Glennie also offers her audiences a visual as well as aural experience, often wearing costumes related to the music she is playing.

"Production is really important to me," she says. "The staging, the lights and so on gives the feeling of an event, as opposed to just another concert in a subscription series. Percussion can lend itself so well to so many different aspects of music, and different types of concerts. Really, it's quite diverse."

"The most important thing of all," says Glennie, "is not being frightened to try something different. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. The point is that you actually have tried it. This is what we're encouraging young people to do in schools, whether it is in music or any other subject. So there should be no reason for us to stop that thinking and curiosity, really, the older we become."


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