Jazz drumming makes hopeful beats in world of silence

5 January 2020

In the case of 12-year-old jazz drummer Liu Boyu, sporting long hair is not to make himself look cool but to hide his defect — two underdeveloped ears.

Born with microtia, Liu’s external ears are missing completely and he has very little functional hearing. However, the birth defect does not affect his passion for music.

He grips two drum sticks and creates repeating patterns with the rhythm. “I like playing jazz drums. The rhythm makes me regain my confidence,” he said in sign language.

Set up in December 2018, Liu’s jazz drumming band has seven members. It belongs to the Xinji Special Education School in northern China’s Hebei Province.

As one of over 2,000 special education schools in China, this 27-year-old school offers primary and middle school courses such as Chinese language, math and fine arts for 75 physically or mentally handicapped students.
China has around 85 million people with disabilities. It has been making efforts to offer quality and inclusive education for handicapped children and teenagers.

In 2018, 666,000 students with disabilities studied in special education schools, an increase of 298,000 people, or 81 percent over 2013, according to a white paper released by the State Council Information Office in July.
“I’ll be your light, your match, your burning sun…” The lyrics of “Love Runs Out,” a song recorded by American pop rock band OneRepublic in 2014, echoes in Liu’s school.

Unlike energetic drummer Liu, 13-year-old Wang Lei’ao is much more reserved and cautious while playing drums. He cannot hear sound below 120 decibels, which means complete hearing loss.

Thus, Wang has to fix his eyes on the gestures of his teacher Sun Shicha all the time. “It is the most difficult skill I have ever learned. But I won’t give up,” Wang said in sign language.

“For the hearing impaired, the most difficult thing about playing drums lies in coordination between hands, eyes and brain. I will change my gestures in performance to tell them the rhythm,” Sun said ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which falls on Tuesday this year.

“They may face loneliness and frustration in the future, but in their short school years, I hope they could find joy and confidence to fight setbacks,” Sun added. The 37-year-old is the youngest among 30 teachers in the special education school.

It is not easy to teach those who cannot hear. To understand the feeling in a world of silence, Sun used earplugs and cotton balls to cover her own ears. She also pretended to make repeated mistakes in making beats and asked them to correct her errors.

“Practicing over and over caused my students to get blisters on their hands, but no one wanted to stop,” Sun said. The jazz drumming band made its premiere performance in June, winning applause from the audience.
“They are eager for success and acceptance. So do their parents. They always wait patiently outside the classroom when their children practice playing drums. It seems that everyone finds their own value,” said Wang Yongquan, the principal of Xinji Special Education School.

Most graduates of the special education school entered vocational schools to learn specific skills such as wood carving, sewing and dancing, while some were even enrolled in colleges, he added.

Sun said the charm of art should not be confined by physical imperfection. She wants to name the jazz drumming band “Nifeng,” which means “against the wind” in English.

“Every one of us is flying against the wind without leaving a trace. However, the sound of music will be here forever even in a world of silence,” she said.


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