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Giving deaf children the chance to make music - Isma and Aisha's story

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Aisha (left, with trumpet), and Isma (right, with baritone) playing their instruments in school

Deaf children like Isma and Aisha don’t always get the chance to make music. A project run by Yorkshire Youth & Music has given them the opportunity to learn to play instruments and boosted their confidence.

Best friends Isma and Aisha, both 11 and from Bradford, are profoundly deaf and have to wear implants to help with their hearing. They started learning to play their brass instruments in early 2015 through the charity’s Deaf Instrumental Learning project.

“When I first made a sound with the trumpet, I felt shocked,” says Aisha. “We didn’t know that we had to make a buzzing shape with our mouths so we did it by accident.”

“Now I feel impressed when I play the baritone,” adds Isma.

Mainstream opportunities

Deaf children are often excluded from music-making because it’s assumed that they can’t hear anything at all. Or, that they won’t get anything from music if they can’t hear it.

The project offers deaf and hearing impaired children the chance to try learning a musical instrument at in-school workshops, led by deaf and hearing musicians. It also gives teachers without hearing impairments the skills they need to teach music to deaf and hearing impaired people – for example, using visual signs and signals.

Isma and Aisha’s first workshop featured deaf flautist Ruth Montgomery, who’s performed as a soloist with the Royal Philharmonic in London and the Russian National Orchestra. It made a big impact on Isma and Aisha. “Ruth was famous and we felt proud,” recalls Isma.

Accessing music

The girls have been enjoying weekly brass lessons held at their school ever since. Their teacher Mr Kelly is hearing and doesn’t know sign language, although he’s picked up some signs through working with the children. He wears a radio aid that connects with the girls’ implants so they can hear his instructions.

They’ve been learning to read and write music. Aisha says the best thing about the lessons is learning to play songs, and Isma likes making up her own tunes. The girls agree that learning a new instrument is hard, but both are committed and practice at home.

“My mum sometimes says ‘Be quiet’ and asks me to play in another room,” says Aisha, laughing.

Teacher Claire Hussain says Isma and Aisha are enthusiastic children who love embracing new challenges, and that learning the instruments has helped boost their confidence.

It’s important for deaf children to access anything that hearing children do.


Giving music-making a try

At the second workshop, Isma and Aisha got a taster of what it feels like to play their instruments with children they don’t know. “It was great to watch,” recalls Gail Dudson, Director of Yorkshire Youth & Music. “They were smiling and laughing, recognising when they got notes wrong.”

“My hope is that they’ll carry on learning to play an instrument in secondary school… but that might be difficult as music in secondary schools is under pressure.”

Isma and Aisha are looking forward to going to secondary school. They’d like to continue playing musical instruments if they have the chance. Isma also wants to learn guitar, while Aisha would like to try the flute next.

To other deaf or hearing impaired children who might be feeling nervous about playing an instrument, Aisha says, “You’ll have fun”. Isma adds: “Come on, have a try.”

Case study researched and written by Trina Wallace: