FeelHarmonic Gives Deaf Children a New Way to Experience Music

(Illustration by Anais Godard at www.anaismoods.com)

People don’t listen to music just to listen. Rather, people listen to music because it makes them feel. Unless you have some background in music theory, you probably aren’t listening for the plagal cadences that are common in popular music or applauding Adam Lavine’s ridiculous vocal jumps in “Animals.” You’re listening because the music makes you feel something! Whether it’s your workout jam or something on the radio, you picked that playlist or radio station for a reason. It motivates you to go hard in the gym. It cheers you up just enough to get through that 8am drive through traffic.

It’s from this idea that music is felt that inspired Brendan Angelides, an artist who writes music under the name Eskmo, to start FeelHarmonic, a community-based outreach program that helps deaf children experience music in a brand new way. FeelHarmonics is part of the Los Angeles-based non-proft organization Echo Society. In collaboration with SubPacs, FeelHarmonics is able to combine sound, animation, and a physical sensation in order for deaf children to experience music and even make music just from those elements alone.

“Using only a SubPac which is a vibrating unit that you can place on your chair or wear like a backpack, I wrote a 1.5 minute piece of music using no headphones or speakers. I wanted to make sure the piece translated properly. The goal of the piece was to not just convey the experience of music, but even more importantly the feeling of communication,” says Angelides on the FeelHarmonic website. “In my mind as I was writing I pictured little colorful shapes “talking” to each other, telling jokes and then playing music together. Having kids feel notes and basslines was intriguing but I felt it needed to go further. The overall message I wanted to convey was: ‘No matter our differences, we can communicate, make sound and laugh together.’”

With the song done, the animation completed, and SubPac backing the project, the next step for Angelides and FeelHarmonics was to put their hard work to the test. On June 12, 2015, thirty deaf and hard of hearing children accompanied with their parents and teachers at Lafayette Elementary in San Diego, California sat wide eyed, grinning from ear to ear as they witness pure magic. There in front of children was an animation playing on a projector and a song vibrating against their backs that corresponded with the dancing shapes on screen. It was an audio-visual experience in the most purest sense.

After the animation and song had finished, the children were able to volunteer to go up to a keyboard that was connected to the 20 SubPacs set up in the room and make music. Each note sent signals to each chair. The children smiled brightly at each other as they all felt the same notes being played. The next section of the demonstration was to have the children volunteer to play the song in the animation by learning the notes by a combination of the signals sent through the SubPacs and from distinguishing what key was which based on the animation.

Needless to say, the demonstration was a something that left everyone speechless. In that single summer afternoon, Brendan Angelides and FeelHarmonics had touched the lives of the children and parents of Lafayette Elementary that was nothing short of a sign that this was something really special.

(Photo courtesy of EDM Chicago)

“The first presentation we did in San Diego at the Lafayette Elementary in 2015 school left me speechless and so genuinely touched,” says Angelides. “I am committed to collaborating with creative in all fields to develop content for FeelHarmonic and to bring this hands-on experience to more communities.”

The FeelHarmonic system works with any song and offers a feasible and realistic way for people to get involved. FeelHarmonic’s goal is to get other visual artists, musicians, and other educational arts programs to use FeelHarmonic as a template to spread what they had created. If music is felt, than what those thirty children experienced may have intrigued the world’s ear enough to make FeelHarmonic someday a household name in bringing music to the deaf.

If FeelHarmonic interests you, reach out to them!

Kane McLoughlin

A New York native raised in Vernon Hills, Illinois, Kane McLoughlin is a well traveled writer with a deep passion for reggae, punk-rock, and any pretty much anything you can chill to.

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