Greenville Symphony Orchestra (Greenville, SC)

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Evelyn Glennie in performance at her drum set.

Dame Evelyn Glennie, a premier solo percussionist in classical music, performed with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra.  Photo by Richard Ecclestone/Sabian

In February 2008, Greenville audiences were treated to a special concert by the Greenville Symphony Orchestra (GSO). The concert, entitled A “Knight” of Percussion, featured guest artist, Scottish virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. The highlight of the performance was Kevin Puts’s Percussion Concerto, which Glennie performed on the vibraphone, five-octave marimba, glockenspiel, two-octave crotales, and tubular bells. Profoundly deaf since age 12, Glennie is considered by many to be the premier solo percussionist in classical music. The GSO received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $10,000 to invite Glennie to headline two weekend performances with the orchestra.

In addition to those feature appearances, the GSO worked with the South Carolina School for Deaf and Blind on a series of community engagements featuring Glennie. Two concert previews were held free-of-charge, featuring lectures about Glennie’s works.

The GSO held adult education programs in the form of salons taught by the orchestra’s principal timpanist, Sherwood Mobley, and South Carolina local professor John Beckford. “I became convinced in order for orchestras to stay relevant to their communities, we must, in part, be a resource for the entire community, not just our subscribers,” said Braxton Ballew, GSO education director, of the outreach eff orts of the project. About 520 students experienced the magic of Glennie through in-school visits, performances, and the screening of Touch the Sound, the award-winning documentary on Glennie’s life. Out of those students, roughly a quarter were, like Glennie, hearing impaired. In learning about sound and vibration, the students were excited—they understood the passion behind the music, and the connection between the magnificent sensations of hearing and feeling.

As Ballew put it, “Just about everyone that comes in contact with Evelyn has a life-changing experience, and for the better.” Glennie’s performance and school visits brought new educational and cultural experiences to the citizens of Greenville, and was considered by many to have been one of the best programs of the year.

(From the NEA 2007 Annual Report)