Super-cali-quite-fantastic!

Dr Paul Whittaker OBE (right), Andrew Hesselwood, & Jean Pearson of U3A
Dr Paul Whittaker OBE (right), Andrew Hesselwood, & Jean Pearson of U3A

At the January General Meeting of Todmorden U3A, Dr. Paul Whittaker OBE, Artistic Director, Music and the Deaf, was another speaker making a welcome return to address the U3A audience. More Music To The Ear – The Osmonds, The Proms and More . . ., he entitled his talk.

Before Paul got under way, members heard that three new U3A groups have been formed: Critical Reading; First Aid; and Photography is so popular that a second Photography Group has been formed.

Paul explained for the benefit of those not at his first talk that from a young age, he wanted to help other deaf children and help deaf people get involved in music. Paul told his audience that they were not just going to sit there and listen and he wasted no time in getting everyone involved. Rather than merely state that rhythm is the foundation of all music, Paul got his audience clapping. Firstly a fairly simple rhythmic clap, then one a little more complicated before advancing to a round. Paul is one of those people who had no difficult in getting the one hundred plus attending involved in such ways early on. His warm and charismatic personality, along with the fact that he had his audience laughing from the word go, meant that they were relaxed and ready to let go of any inhibitions they may have had.

That part over, MatD, Paul continued to say, have set up Music Clubs in Yorkshire, Manchester, London and Peterborough. Two further groups have been launched in conjunction with the Nottingham City Music Hub and the North East Hub Cluster. In these clubs, deaf children have an opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. Some go on to develop further skills, such as composition. More clubs are being formed in other parts of the country.

Signed Song is a project that brings deaf and hearing people of all ages together to make music. The Jersey Eisteddfod was the first music festival in the UK to have a signing choir class in competition. Paul has been invited the adjudicate this class since it started.

More audience participation! This time Paul invited his audience to join him and his very able signer and confederate, Andrew – who got his own well-deserved round of applause at the end of the meeting – in a signed rendition of “Hey, Mr Miller!”, a song dedicated to Glenn Miller. To get an idea of what this involved, those readers with a computer can key in the title of the song and get a link to YouTube (Sing Up) and see Paul and Andrew perform the number. The trombone is the sign for Glenn Miller.

Paul then brought the Osmonds into the picture. Two non-performing Osmond brothers Virl and Tom, were born deaf as was the second son of Merrill, Justin. This lead to much of the charity work of Merrill focussing on supporting the deaf and eventually bringing him into contact with Paul and Music and the Deaf. Paul was overwhelmed at the prospect of having support from the Osmonds with their presence. So were some of his older female colleagues, but for a different reason.

Merrill Osmond and his deaf son Justin, visited Music and the Deaf in Huddersfield. A fund raising show at the Grand in Leeds was held, featuring Shane Ritchie, Chico and other celebrities but especially the Osmonds, who could guarantee a sell-out. Proceeds went to The Hearing Fund UK, whose 2013 charity partner was Music and the Deaf.

At a concert in Cardiff, Paul encountered a woman from the BBC and challenged her on why there was no signing at the Proms. The message was taken back to London and in due course Paul was invited to sign for a concert of songs from musicals. The BBC would go for one of two options: Rogers and Hammerstein or Stephen Sondheim. “Lovely”, thought Paul. “They’re bound to opt for Rogers and Hammerstein”. The Beeb, however chose Sondheim, which posed difficulties for Paul as few of his songs stand alone outside of the context of the musical. Paul has gone on to do more signing at the Proms.

Paul performed himself and has a good singing voice and knows, he said, in answer to a later question, when he is out of tune. Back in speaking mode he explained that deaf children are often isolated because integrated education does not bring them into contact with other deaf children. This is another great benefit that MatD brings to them, they realise they are not alone. Although founded in 1988, there are still only a handful of people who are trained to teach music to deaf children.

Before he finished and took questions, Paul and Andrew delivered what was perhaps the high spot, a mimed performance, signing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Reader, you needed to be there. For more information on Music and the Deaf, go to matd.org.uk.