Decibels became involved as a partner with Audiovisability in promoting, managing and helping to sponsor the Dressage Project through the Sobell Foundation. In April 2018, Ruth Montgomery who delivers lots of Music Workshops for Decibels and also runs Audiovisability, met Paralympian Rider Laurentia Tan who is ranked no.2 in the world for her grade in the world of Dressage. She is profoundly deaf and has cerebral palsy. She expressed to Ruth in BSL that she wishes she could ‘hear’ the dressage music she is riding to with her horses, and previously her marks have been marked down due to starting and finishing early at her performances and everything else. Allowances for her deafness is not something the world of dressage sport can really do, as the main thing is performing to the music; please see this link.
After many weeks of discussing matters through emails and Facetime with Laurentia, Ruth decided that it would be appropriate if Audiovisability partnered by Decibels & the Arts Council England should support her through “Creating Music through Technology” and prepare her for the Paralympic games in Tokyo in 2020. She was also very pleased to announce that Dame Evelyn Glennie had agreed to take part in this research & development project. It was agreed to use technology that helps to ‘hear’ the music without necessarily using hearing aids/cochlear implants. This would mean experimenting with using haptic technology which might involve haptic wrist bands, vibrating necklaces & SubPac vests. It was agreed by Laurentia to try as a beginning the SubPac vest, as she does not hear anything, and does not wear hearing aids very often, and with them on, she does not get the clarity of listening to music.
The vibrotactile vest is worn on the torso that connects you wirelessly to the music via pulsing vibrations that can be augmented, or otherwise. We can guess what happened when Tan put it on and plugged into her rehearsal video.
The vest cannot in any way monopolise the deaf person’s music access. The vibrations alone cannot convey other, subtler, musical elements. It was very important to give Laurentia a real music learning experience, as opposed to just putting the vest on and going for a ride.
The R&D highlights the need for greater collaboration between rider and composer, equivalent to that already practiced by fellow competitors. Ruth & Eloise wanted to build team spirit for Tom Hunt (Composer)to get to know Evelyn, and for us and Evelyn to identify Laurentia’s tastes and personality – which she believed would bring out the best of her in future games. Evelyn, of course, is the deaf percussionist whose role easily supersedes the vest. After all, Evelyn and Laurentia share common ground, in terms of exploiting their sense of feeling with certain tools to exert greater flexibility and control.
For Evelyn , it is a wide range of beaters she can choose from; For Laurentia , among other things it is her reins, which have eight finger loops; four on each side (some riders choose two, four or six, while others forego them altogether). Certain subtle movements act like a telephone wire, signaling the horse to shift. Similarly, Evelyn takes her cue from the beaters’ reverberations in her fingers, swapping where necessary. In their first lesson together, that stimulated discussions around mood, emotions, tone ‘colours’, tweaks to the score. Identifying the piano as the “beef” of the computerised score, Hunt re-wrote it for Marimba, the deep-toned xylophone Evelyn works with. In the subsequent recording Laurentia lay below the giant instrument, watching for maximum sensory impact – a new love for music emerging.
“I so wish I could have an orchestra visible to me in the riding arena,” Laurentia muses, “so I can understand what I’m feeling in the vest.” Winning gold, with her teacher playing, is a dream she wants to pursue. “It really needs exploring,” Ruth asserts. “Everyone else Laurentia is competing with has the advantage of being hearing and able to follow the music effortlessly. By learning inside out, it will enable her to choreograph her own floor plan more independently. ”Over a weekend in Cologne, both Marimba recording and vest went on trial. Melissa Mostyn was among the witnesses in the arena being floored by Laurentia’s newfound ease. In a two-part mock test – one with the vest, one without – Germany’s National Dressage Judge, Michael Zimmerman, scored Laurentia 6% higher in the first part, unaware that she was wearing it.That this was the same routine that had upset her in Tryon was incredible. This was the breakthrough the R&D needed: the setting of a new access precedent for deaf and disabled sports competitors.The impetus to take up its investment prospects with international and Singaporean sports authorities was clear. Melissa, as a deaf person and someone who loves riding, can relate to Laurentia Tan but the very notion of performing in a public arena, with audience and judges scrutinising her every move, petrifies her. This is not the end of the story about Laurentia Tan and her “Creating music through technology” involving the vibrotactile vest. Watch this space for more updates.
As we approach the end of the year and the actual end of the Dressage project, I wanted to offer my sincere gratitude for your support of, and involvement in, the project. I do not think it is an overstatement to say that this project has fundamentally changed the competitive landscape for Deaf athletes – we took on the Paralympic Committee and won! Laurentia can now wear the SubPac in her future competitions and finally is on an equal footing with her hearing peers. You all did this, your hard work and expertise made this possible. As a celebration to our background work in Tokyo, we took center stage, literally, at the CBSO Centre with the live stream concert. This was such an incredible experience and the feedback I have had from the Deaf community has been overwhelmingly positive. We experimented with VV, Sign Language interpretation, and creative captioning to make a classical concert welcoming for Deaf audiences. If you haven not had a chance to see it, there is a highlight video here: In addition, 10 talented Deaf artists visited a number of schools nationally to deliver visual arts and drama workshops, providing valuable role-model opportunities for Deaf children. I had an incredible week at Braidwood School working with professional musicians and Deaf artists to deliver music, art and movement workshops. The workshop pack created as part of this is available for other schools to use as best practice for music education of Deaf children and my sincere hope is that this will have a positive impact on how Deaf children are educated in the future. None of this would have been possible without Arts Council England funding and the involvement of our partners; Decibels, Deaf Explorer, Sobell Foundation, SubPac Company Dressurstall Volker Eubel, Singapore Sports Institute and of course, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. This is a tremendous achievement for all of us, especially with ever-changing plans in response to COVID, and I hope that as the year draws to a close we can reflect on all that we have achieved together. Personally, I feel very grateful to have been a part of this project and to have worked with you all. Many thanks and Happy Christmas.
In the midst of the pandemic cloud & groundbreaking, Ruth’s message is quite simply not only a ray of light but the full sun beaming over us all! So much of the success has been down to her vision, determination, patience, and skill not to mention being one of the kindest and most considerate people I know. This achievement to move the landscape for deaf children cannot be underestimated and your role in this has been absolutely paramount. I cannot wait to see what 2022 holds. I hope this festive season will allow her some much deserved rest and quality family time. All good wishes and stay safe.
It was a huge pleasure to be part of this ground breaking project and work with such an amazing team. May the coming year allow us all to further extend our curiosity and creativity with more compassion and inclusion.
It has been truly amazing to have been included in your incredible vision, involving a very skilled and talented team. It clearly gave us all great pleasure, and you opened our eyes to what is possible in your very unique and inspirational way, so thank you. Let us hope the New Year brings us all more cheer and more opportunities of collective creativity that is accessible to all.
Thank you so much for the honour of letting me learn from you both and it was a honour for Serafina and I to ride to your music. It was an experience of a lifetime and it has increased my interest in freestyle dressage with music tenfold! Laurentia, I wish you all the success in dressage competitions in the future! I enjoyed learning from you immensely.
What a wonderful project. It has been such an honour to be involved. I look forward to continuing our work in the future!
As the Decibels Founder & Executive Director, I am very pleased to have been involved in this enlightening & ground breaking project and being able to use some of the sponsorship funds from the Sobell Foundation involving Decibels project entitled “Creating Music through Technology for Deaf & Special Needs people”.
Thank you so much to all of you for your contribution and support in this project! It has been a journey full of inspiration! It is an honour and privilege to work with everybody involved and I wish to express my huge gratitude and appreciation.
Ruth, thank you for taking the lead with your creativity, inspiration, and determination. May you continue to ‘change the landscape’ and open all our eyes (and ears) to the world of music and beyond.