Musical for deaf children debuts in Chicago

The sound of a flute or a violin producing a lovely melody is something most of us take for granted. But for children with cochlear implants, the joy of music may be something they haven’t experienced – until now, at least.

If you go

Saturday, July 16, 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Ballrooms 1 and 2, Sheraton Hotel and Towers

301 East North Water Street, Chicago

Request free tickets by contacting Christina Wood,
christina.wood@medel.com.

On Saturday at the Symposium on Cochlear Implants in Children Chicago-area kids will get the chance to take part in a live performance of “The Farmer’s Cheese,” a musical specially designed for those with hearing impairments.

The performance will be the play’s U.S. debut. The show previously has been performed in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Scottish composer Oliver Searle teamed up with children’s storybook author Geoff Plant to create a tale of a farmer (Martin O’Connor), a mouse (Clare McGarry) and a delicious piece of cheese. The other animals on the farm – a rat, a cat, a dog, a hog and a bull – are represented by various musical instruments.

Searle says the story is quite repetitive; in fact, the 45-minute performance includes two tellings of the same tale. The first time the story is told with rhythmic text spoken between the lines of music, while the second time is simply told through the music and the actors’ pantomime. As a result, it’s best for children between the ages of 3 and 7.

“It’s encouraging the children to listen to the music, as well as focus on the action,” Searle says. “It’s delivered in a way that the melodies are quite clear and attached to instruments that are linked to the animal.”

He says he has had children come up to him after a performance and say, “I like the sound of that animal,” demonstrating the connection between the sound and the character, not to mention the personalities of the instrumentalists.

The particular instruments representing the animals – flute, violin, cello, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone and trombone – were chosen after conducting research with adults and children with cochlear implants. Searle found that lower-pitched instruments were easier for people with hearing impairments to hear, and didn’t cause discomfort.

The lower tenor of the instruments also produces greater vibrations so the kids can feel the music, as well as hear it.

“I made sure the instruments are important,” Searles says. “[But] it’s not just a matter of choosing the violin sound; it has to be that violinist playing it, which I think the children enjoy.”

The project was commissioned by Med-El, a company that makes cochlear implants, because they wanted to fine-tune their products to allow users to appreciate music.

But Searle’s belief in the power of music is what truly motivated the project.

“I feel quite strongly that music should be a part of every human being’s existence,” Searle says. “For children with implants, it’s about creating a safe environment to appreciate something like this. There are not many opportunities they’re going to have to comprehend it and enjoy it.”

In the nearly two years since “The Farmer’s Cheese” debuted, Searle says they’ve received a very positive response from parents who bring their children to the show, as well as from the kids who get drawn into the interactive performance.

And he hopes that the Chicago audience will be equally receptive of the show.

“We think it’s actually ground-breaking, and we’re very keen to share it with as many people as possible,” he says.

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