Music, is universal.
People all over the World sing, dance and enjoy music from the Amazonian Tribesman chants to the Top 40 we listen to in the UK. Music is everywhere, and free for all to enjoy.
Unless, you are fated without the ability to hear.
Unfortunately, being deaf is not overly uncommon, in fact there are about 70 million deaf people in the World. With sign language as their mother tongue they have found a way to communicate and live within society without letting their disability hinder them.
Many, in an attempt to listen to music, place their hands upon a speaker and feel the vibrations in order to ‘listen’ to the beat and rhythm.
But this practice has been around for a very long time.
I would like to tell you about a woman named Helen Keller, and her story of overcoming adversity. But whilst I do, just consider for a moment, the things that you would miss out on were you to lose your sight, your speech, your hearing, and question what you would do in the face of absolute darkness.
Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama to Arthur and Katherine Keller, owners of a cotton plantation.
In 1882 Keller became ill with a fever. The following days, her mother began to notice that Helen would not react to the dinner bell, or show any reaction to a hand being waved in front of her face.
At just 19 months old, Helen Keller had become deaf, blind and mute.
As Keller grew into childhood, she found company in Martha Washington, the young daughter of the family cook. The two created a type of sign language and by the time Keller was 7, they had a library of over 60 signs to communicate with.
Agitated and angry, Helen became aggressive. In a bid to find answers and inspiration, her mother sent Helen to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts.
She began working with Anne Sullivan, a recent graduate. This relationship would continue for 49 years.
Anne began teaching Helen finger spelling, where she would place an object in Helens hand and write the name of it in the palm of her other.
Over the years, Helen began learning multiple communication techniques including Braille, typing and speech. One of them was the process of listening to someone speak by placing her thumb on their throat and finger on their lips.
Using the vibrations and movement of the mouth, Helen could distinguish between the movement and understand what someone said to her.
Soon, Helen Keller became somewhat of a celebrity, widely celebrated for her determination and education, at the age of 21, she had written her first book ‘The Story of My Life’ and by 24, graduated college.
Following that she set about tackling social and political issues including womens suffrage, pacifism and birth control. She testified before congress, strongly advocating to improve the welfare of blind people. In 1915, she co-founded Helen Keller International to combat the causes and consequences of blindness of malnutrition. In 1920 she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union.
In 1936 Keller’s beloved teacher and devoted companion, Anne Sullivan died.
10 years later Keller was appointed counsellor of international relations for the American Foundation of Overseas Blind. At the age of 75, Keller embarked on the longest and most gruelling trip of her life; a 40,000 mile 5 month trek across Asia, speaking and bringing inspiration and encouragement to millions of people.
Over her life, Keller received many honours in recognition for her accomplishments including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal and Election into the Women’s Hall of Fame.
She received honorary doctorial degrees from Temple, Harvard, Glasgow, Scotland, Berlin, Germany and Delhi University.
After suffering a series of strokes she returned to a quiet life in 1961 and passed in 1968, a few weeks before her 88th Birthday, leaving behind her a legacy that would greatly influence the support and lives of the many Deaf people that followed.
Standing as a powerful example of how determination, hard work and the right teacher can allow an individual to triumph over adversity, Helen Keller was an inspirational individual who, by overcoming difficult conditions with a great deal of persistence and strength became a well respected and World- renowned activist who laboured and strived for the betterment of all.
Because of these practices, because of the institutes she founded and the changes she strived for, the medical practices and support offered today are forever in her debt and we are closer now than ever to putting in place ways to reverse such things.
Recently I watched a video that showed a child hear his mothers voice for the first time. It was revolutionary and beautiful.
The future is one where we can all hear and listen to the music of the World, whether that’s the laughter of a child or our favourite piece of music and where we can see the effects, the healing, the passion and the love that comes from it.
The best and most beautiful things in the World cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.
– Helen Keller