She is the first person in the world to have a career as a solo percussionist. She usually performs on stage in bare feet, and she plays in more than a hundred live shows every year. She is Dame Evelyn Glennie, and this year, she will be awarded the Polar Music Prize, an important award given each year to one modern musician and one classical musician. She has also been profoundly deaf since she was twelve years old.
Evelyn was born in Scotland—her father played the accordion in a country Scottish dance band—and she grew up surrounded by the music of old Scotland. The mouth organ and the clarinet were her first instruments, but when Evelyn started losing her hearing at eight years old, she knew she had to find another way to experience music. She realized that she could hear the music with her body by feeling the vibrations of the sounds, and when she was twelve she switched to percussion, which includes instruments like drums and cymbals.
But Evelyn didn’t stop at the drums! As a solo percussionist, she is usually the star of the show. She plays a lot of different kinds of percussive instruments, including some she invented herself. She got the idea for the Barimbulum from a machine on her brother’s farm. And you could even make her Batonka yourself—it’s made of PVC tubes cut to different lengths, and you play it by smacking it with sticks made out of computer mouse pads. (You can see a video of Evelyn talking about some of her unusual instruments here.)
Evelyn Glennie has traveled all over the world as a percussionist, and she has played with many different bands. She says that the experience of playing with famous musicians like Bela Fleck and Björk has been a wonderful opportunity: “The fact that I’m able to collaborate with many different types of musicians has been one of the exciting things in my journey. As soon as we’re born we’re striking something or rattling something. There are no social barriers to percussion at all.”