As we’re talking about Deaf musicians, dancers and actors in our November bulletin, what better way to start than with the opening number from Strictly Come Dancing on Halloween at the end of October?

Beethoven began to experience deafness in his mid-twenties, and by the time Beethoven wrote his 9th Symphony (from which Ode to Joy is taken), some twenty years later, he was profoundly deaf.

We should say – for the sake of musical clarity – that the music here isn’t Beethoven’s harmony; it’s been made darker through the use of minor chords, to fit the mood of Halloween:


Here’s the original, where you can hear the ‘joy’ in ‘Ode to Joy’. It’s the anthem of the European Union; commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society in London, written by a German and first performed in Austria!


As we’ve said (in this Music Makes Lives Better article), people can experience hearing loss in many ways; Ralph Vaughan Williams hearing was damaged by exposure to gun fire during World War 1, when he served in the Royal Artillery (artillery basically means big guns). He was 41 when he joined the war effort, and his hearing declined for the remainder of his life. Coincidentally he also wrote nine Symphonies, and the 9th was also commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society, though this time they got the first performance too:


It would be asking too much, would it not, for us to find a third composer who wrote a 9th Symphony, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society, and written by a composer with hearing loss? You’re right. We tried.

Dame Ethel Smyth also suffered hearing damage during the First World War, and by 1930 when she approached her 70s, was able to hear very little. Like Beethoven and Vaughan Williams, this did not stop her composing and from this we know that all three maintained the ability to create and hear music in their heads. Dame Ethel went further, conducting the first performance of The Prison, her vocal symphony, in 1931:


And she’d earlier written the Anthem ‘March for the Women’ and was imprisoned alongside Pankhurst for Suffragist activism. Quite a woman!

Read more about our project with Deaf Young People and Instrumental Learning, take a look at our resources for communicating with D/deaf/F people, or have a look at our resources for D/deaf/F children (and their teachers) on our YouTube channel.