The silent drummers

September 17, 2012

By Nacho Doce

A photograph may be deaf and mute, but it speaks through the interpretation and feelings of each viewer. We might say that feelings are among the few things not yet globalized in the 21st Century.


For the second time I found myself doing a story on handicapped children in Brazil, but this time deaf musicians were very different from blind ballerinas. What I found truly gratifying about the ballerinas was what they achieved deserved fame. Well after finishing that story, they performed in the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympics. This time we decided to do a story on a music school for deaf children, only to find out after that they are invited to play Brazil’s National Anthem on their drums in the opening ceremony of the upcoming 2014 World Cup.

As the ballerinas always had their eyes closed it made it easier to portray them as blind, but with the deaf musicians it was more difficult. The majority of them don’t use a hearing aid which would have served as an obvious reference, and my pictures don’t have sound. I discovered their peculiar reason for not wearing the aid, especially those over 14 years old; they were ashamed to wear them on the street for aesthetic reasons, something I realized was natural at that age.

One day during a music class, I asked permission to take a portrait of a student named Joao Pedro dos Santos Teixeira. When they finished their class on the patio I was taken into a classroom where the wall was covered with posters showing the different sign language letters. Joao came in and I asked him, through an interpreter, to tell me what he feels when he plays the drum. He went straight to the blackboard, and drew a musical score, and then took a seat on a bongo. That portrait became the story-teller for me.

After having heard them practicing on the school patio with all their strength and joy, I was moved on the day of the concert when I read the name of their group, “Music of Silence,” embroidered on their uniforms. I could feel that name deep in my heart, knowing that although they couldn’t hear they could feel the music through the vibrations of their bongos.

It was wonderful to see them communicate with members of the band who could hear, those who played other instruments like trumpets and guitars. Those musicians took it upon themselves to learn sign language to communicate with the percussionists. The art of music had achieved inclusion in the life of the handicapped.

Maybe this has already happened in other countries, but to experience it with my own eyes, hear them, see their strength and their concentration when they place their hands on the bongos without taking their eyes off the conductor, all left me without words. It was the second time I lived that experience both personally and professionally, and I knew that even if my story didn’t work out well, at least the experience was worth the trouble.

To close the concert professor Fabio broke all protocol by playing the drums with the deaf musicians. Their smiles radiated the same pure joy I had seen on the faces of the blind ballerinas, with the difference being that the dancers could hear the thundering applause, but the drummers couldn’t.

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