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Deaf and Loud concert creates symphonic music for all ears

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Monday, December 17, 2018

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The Deaf Professional Arts Network (D-PAN) has accomplished a great deal during its 12 years of working to make music accessible to people with hearing impairment — from specialized live performances to its own DPAN TV Sign Language Channel.

The organization is shooting even higher with its latest project.

D-Pan unveils the Deaf and Loud Symphonic Experience on Sunday, Dec. 16, at Detroit's Orchestra Hall, in collaboration with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. D-Pan co-founder and deaf rapper Sean Forbes will be joined by award-winning classical percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, America's Got Talent finalist Mandy Harvey — both also deaf — and a standard rock 'n' roll rhythm section, playing repertoire of Detroit-centric music from Motown to Eminem.

Royal Oak resident Forbes, 36, acknowledges that he's "never been to a symphonic show" before. But he sees Deaf and Loud as an opportunity to expand D-PAN's reach into another music community and audience.

"As an artist, it is my goal to see how we can create something fresh by merging ideas together," explains Forbes, who started D-PAN with local music producer Joel Bacow. "So for me it wasn't just the symphonic infusion with hip-hop and rap, or vice versa — it was more about how can we create an immersive experience for everyone."

The musical performance will be abetted by American Sign Language interpreters as well extensive video production to "provide direction to the experience," Forbes says.

"For example I might hear or feel something, but I won't know what it is unless I see it," he says. "To me as a deaf person, seeing is hearing it, and this will be highlighted through the whole experience."

Jake Bass, Forbes' longtime creative cohort and arranger of Deaf and Loud's pieces, adds that, "It's all about making something for everyone to enjoy. This has never been done for the deaf community before. They've never had something to go to Orchestra Hall and experience and fully understand, from start to finish."

Deaf and Loud was borne when Glennie was referenced in a Washington Post story about D-PAN three years ago. Glennie reached out to Forbes from Britain, where she resides, and he and Bass — whose father and uncle, the Funky Bass Team, produced Eminem's earliest recordings — visited her in Vermont while she was performing there.

"During the meeting she mentioned wanting to do something with hip-hop and rap and how she liked Eminem, and wanted to know if we knew or liked that kind of music," Forbes says. He and Bass subsequently flew to London, where they honed the idea further with Glennie. "We stayed there a week, working on songs and material we could translate for an orchestra, with American Sign Language," says Bass, 29, who resides in Berkley. The idea of a Detroit-oriented show meanwhile, was an easy sell.

"We always want to do something to pay tribute to our home town," says Bass, 29, "so we figured why not do it on this scale, with talent like Evelyn?" Bass says. The DSO came on board after a mutual friend introduced Bass to President and CEO Ann Parsons.

The Deaf and Loud show — conducted by Grammy Award winner Sly5thAve (Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II) and featuring in the band Bass' father, Jeff, and keyboardist Luis Resto, a member of Was (Not Was) and frequent Eminem collaborator — will include songs such as Eminem's "Lose Yourself," the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" and Funkadelic's "Hit It and Quit It." Historic Motown arranger Paul Riser also stepped in to help arrange a set of the label’s classics, which will be part of the concert.

Jake Bass's arrangements, meanwhile, were crafted with the intended audience in mind.

"Some of the parts, like in Motown, where you have trumpets playing something really high, I layer with a guitar part as well so you can really feel that specific part," he explains. “I’ve done little breakdowns here and there where I'll put some hip-hop elements in that will break it up nicely, and with programmed drums and the bass you'll really be able to feel that low end."

Forbes is looking forward to more innovations with D-PAN — "things that should have been done for the deaf, deaf/blind and hard of hearing community many years ago, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed." But right now he's taking a moment to bask in what may be the organization's most ambitious musical project to date.

"What initially was meant to be something on a small scale with a couple players turned into a hometown performance with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra," he says. "It's still wild to think that this is happening."

• If you go: The Deaf and Loud Symphonic Experience takes place at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16 at Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit. $50-$95. A Silent Disco party follows. Call 313-576-5111 or visit dso.org.

Web Site: www.dso.org

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