My short video for proof:

Hello! I’m Dr Paul Whittaker OBE – a profoundly deaf Musician from the UK. I was born deaf, but I can play the piano and the organ. I have a Music degree from Oxford University and 2 honorary degrees. In 2007, The Queen gave me an OBE for services to music.

For 27 years, I ran a charity called Music And The Deaf encouraging deaf people, and those who live and work with them, to take part in music. I ran workshops, worked with orchestras, choirs, dance companies, theatres, to encourage them to engage with deaf people, and gave a lot of speeches about my life as a deaf Musician. 3 years ago, I left that job to start a freelance career. I still work in music and deafness but most of my work is motivational speaking.

For many years, I’ve been passionate about signed song and recently set up – Songs in British Sign Language – to try and raise standards and awareness of this art form. I film a performance of a song along with a detailed teaching video, explaining why I use certain signs and how I’ve translated the song.

For 26 years, I’ve also worked in the theatre interpreting major music shows such as Les Miserables, Cats, Phantom Of The Opera, West Side Story, and many others. I’ve also signed Opera and worked with various choirs and at the BBC Proms. In 2010, I signed the Sondheim at 80 Prom and had the pleasure of meeting Stephen Sondheim and working with people like Judi Dench.

AMA about my life as a deaf musician, signed song, access issues – anything related to music and deafness.

Comments: 389 • Responses: 90  • Date: 

Unidentified_Remains205 karma

A, how?

B, link to your favorite composition, please.

PaulWhittakerOBE276 karma

A: I rely entirely on the printed score to understand music. I cannot identify what voice is singing, what instrument is being played, melody, harmony, form - anything - but once I see it on the page, I know in my head exactly what it sounds like.

I would say this is linked to playing the piano. The piano is such a big, physical instrument with a wide pitch range; when you press a key down, you feel the hammer hit the string, the vibrations travel up your arm and every note feels different. It's easy to relate the note you depress to the one printed on the musical stave/score and therefore easy to relate what you see to what you feel.

I say "easy" as I never recall having any trouble learning music. I started playing the piano when I was 5 and, over the years, have tried playing many other instruments so I have some idea of their tone, timbre, etc.

There are some kinds of music which are harder for me to access, such as Jazz and Electronic as this cannot be written down and therefore I can't read and understand it.

B: To answer your second question, my favourite piece of music depends on what mood I'm in! I often think about what recordings I would take to that mythical desert island, and there are a few pieces that would always make the list:

Carilion - Herbie Flowers and Ian Gomm (Recorded by SKY on their first album) Ave verum corpus, K. 618 - Mozart West Side Story - Bernstein

I am a massive James MacMillan fan - I think he's a genius!

Unidentified_Remains67 karma

A, thank you for such a detailed answer. I think I kind of understand. I have zero musical talent besides being able to whistle a bit. But you helped me understand a bit what it's like to " be a musician".

B, I wasn't clear in my first B. I meant your favorite composition of your own.

PaulWhittakerOBE53 karma

As I'm not really a composer and have written very little stuff that I would share with anyone, I don't actually have a favourite of mine. There is one little piece I wrote for my chapel choir when I was at University which I like but that's about it, haha!

malahchi19 karma

such as Jazz and Electronic as this cannot be written down

Some people do write them down. Adam Neely did a video in which he explains how he wrote down electronic music and explains a few different systems of writing down weird things.

PaulWhittakerOBE12 karma

I'll have to look into that. I do have the additional barrier (as I see it) of not knowing how the sounds are manipulated or produced. Can such things be clearly written down?

malahchi14 karma

Everything can be written down. We just need word or signs that explain the sound. We can write the frequencies, the texture of the sound (smooth, shrill...), its power level compared to other instruments, etc.

Eg: if I represent on a score a very round sound that begins at 20 Hz and increases by one octave per second, with some practice you can understand that it begins so low-pitched that you could nearly feel it as a rhythm rather than a note ; that by 4 to 5 seconds, it's medium-pitched ; and that by 10 seconds it's so high that few people can perceive it anymore.

PaulWhittakerOBE16 karma

That's really useful. Thank you so much. I need to go beyond conventional musical notation!

Adolf_-_Hipster13 karma

There is also a chest strap that has been invented to let deaf people "feel" the bass in heavy dropped electronic music. I highly recommend it. Even though i can hear perfectly normal, it blows me away how awesome it is. And i feel like programs could be written so you could "feel" live music that hasn't been written down yet. I'd love to know what you think about that.

PaulWhittakerOBE6 karma

Have you got a link for this?

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Thanks for sharing this.

FerreroEccelente3 karma

The French musique concrete composer (and synth pioneer) Pierre Henry designs synthesizers, to produce sounds he may or may not use in the future. Each of the designs is accompanied by a drawing of the sine wave of the sound it's intended to produce. Could you perhaps study the typical patterns produced by instruments you're familiar with to give yourself a basis for comparison, then infer what electronic instruments sound like from that? (Source: Partially deaf music journalist who had tea with Pierre Henry)

PaulWhittakerOBE4 karma

Definitely something I could look into, though I admit that my knowledge of physics is extremely limited, so I may struggle to understand some of Pierre Henry's designs, but I'll have a look into this. Thank you.

lillib10 karma

In regards to the tones "feeling different" how does that relate to a synthesized instrument vs. an actual piano?

PaulWhittakerOBE22 karma

They are completely different. Every 'real' piano you play feels different whereas most synthesised instruments I've tried feel exactly the same. The latter are not alive to me at all whereas acoustic instruments have their own character and personality.

hazysummersky3 karma

So would this be similar to Beethoven when he went deaf, and relying on vibration? I imagine the experience being similar, but never having heard the actual sounds..kudos to you man, that's rather mindblowing! Is there no tech available or in the pipeline that you know of that might make it accessible? Do cochlear implants not work? Anyway, you're an inspiration man, like someone who's denser than water but swims the Channel, has no arms but takes up shot put, damn, I have no good analogy, like a guy who does what you do. Inspiring, makes me think I should do more with what I have. Hope the road ahead works out curiously wonderful for you.

PaulWhittakerOBE9 karma

Love your comments, thank you so much. I don't feel an implant would work for me at all. I like my current curiously wonderful life. Hope yours is equally curiously wonderful!

jumperforwarmth56 karma


How did you get into music?

Also how do you describe the feeling of music?

Also congratulations and I think you are cool! X

PaulWhittakerOBE63 karma

Thank you very much!

Even though I was born deaf, music was always around in the house when I was growing up. My Mum played the piano and my parents had the radio on or played records nearly all the time, so I was aware of this phenomenon which affected people in profound ways. Perhaps if I had grown up in an environment where there was lots of art or dance, I may have pursued that path instead!

Finding a teacher was often a challenge as they were unsure of how to communicate and to explain music to someone without hearing. I always rely on what I call the 'played example' where the teacher showed me what they wanted me to do, then I watched and copied it.

Describing the feeling of music is a tough one to answer. Sometimes, I can attend a performance of a piece of music and feel that I'm going to burst because it's so overpowering; at other times, it makes me happy or sad or makes me cry. Music can bring people together, and divide people, can be used as a political tool, can be experienced alone or in a crowd. You can have several thousand people attending one physical performance of a piece of music, but everyone goes away having responded to it differently. That's the power of music! For me, it's something that I just have to do and I can't imagine life without it.

mrsfran13 karma

Out of interest, if you're attending a performance, but do not hear the music, what is it that's affecting you? I can understand the physicality of playing music you can't hear and engaging with it, but watching someone else play but not being physically linked to the music, how does that work?

PaulWhittakerOBE16 karma

Part of the attraction of attending a performance is sharing that experience with other people. Being at a live performance also exposes you to the full harmonic range and a greater sense of vibration. I enjoy watching people actually playing music and can pick up differences in interpretation from watching them. Aside from the Sondheim at 80 Prom in 2010, which I signed, the most profound live music experience was a performance of James MacMillan's 'Seven Last Words' at Birmingham Town Hall by Britten Sinfonia and chorus 2 years ago. It was just phenomenal.

ZaTTTel39 karma

How is it playing an instrument without hearing it? Is it even still fun? Do you imagine the sounds in your head?

PaulWhittakerOBE73 karma

I may not hear the instrument, but I can certainly feel it and there is an immense amount of fun and pleasure from that. My main instruments are the piano and organ and, having tried many other instruments over the years, I have a good imagination and was actually told by one of my tutors that I was really good at orchestrating and arranging music because my imagination was so vivid.

I would say that your ears are not actually that important when playing music; your heart and soul and emotion play a bigger role. Musicality is not linked to hearing ability. There are thousands of hearing people who say they don't like music and many deaf people who do!

eatabean11 karma

I would like to add that as a (almost) deaf former professional musician, my ears prevent me from hearing music as I know it should sound. If I could somehow disconnect my ears and stop the tinnitus and distortion I would enjoy music a lot more than I do now. I miss the good old days.

PaulWhittakerOBE7 karma

Tinnitus is horrendous, so sorry you suffer from that. What caused your hearing loss? Hearing aids can - as you may know - add to the distortion rather than clear it.

Ferragho35 karma

What's your favorite genre? Deaf metal?

PaulWhittakerOBE30 karma

Ha ha. No, it's not, but even if I was exposed to metal, the volume level fortunately couldn't damage my hearing anymore than it already is.

trucking_idiot8 karma

As a metalhead i find the phenomenon of insanely loud music at concerts very troubling. Even with earplugs, it is sometimes too loud.

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

I can imagine. Even though I am deaf I still find that loud music is painful. Not surprising that so many musicians develop hearing problems. You only need to be exposed to it for a few minutes before your hearing is permanently damaged. Dangerous stuff, is music!

Alstroemerian35 karma

Hello Dr. Whittaker. Thank you for doing this AMA. As a CoDA (also from the UK), it is really wonderful to see a member of the Deaf Community spreading positive information about the fact that people who are deaf really can do anything that a hearing person can do. Apart from hear, of course.

You mentioned we could ask questions about access issues. What kind of access issues do you face in your work and/or personal life? Is there anything you would want to highlight to hearing communities as a particular issue that you (and other deaf people face)?

PaulWhittakerOBE27 karma

Hello, many thanks for your message and question. As we both know, deaf people can do anything that hearing people can do, apart from hear!

I'm fortunate in having a decent Access To Work agreement and have good interpreter support, but that doesn't stop me from occasionally wanting to pick up a phone and have a conversation with someone, or from wishing that I could listen to the radio. Generally speaking - I'm told - the level of conversion and debate on radio is far higher than it is on TV.

Probably the biggest access barriers are to do with every day leisure and entertainment. Things like not being able to go to the cinema or the theatre when you feel like it, but having to find when there is a captioned or signed performance. That restriction of choice is frustrating, especially if you're wanting to go with friends. Within that, there is the issue of whether the interpreter is actually any good, whether you can understand them, or whether the captions will actually work in the cinema.

Technology has improved the lives of deaf people in many ways and there is certainly far more choice and more opportunities than when I was young, but there is still a long way to go before deafness and deaf people are seen and accepted.

What still concerns me greatly is the quality and provision of deaf education in the UK. Teachers Of The Deaf often do a sterling job under difficult circumstances, but integration certainly does not work for all deaf children, and many deaf children fail to achieve their potential. Expectations can often be quite low and although this is not current political thinking, my view is that there should always be a place for schools for the deaf.

Greater recognition of BSL and having it as a curriculum subject in schools would make a vast difference, but we then have the issue of who would actually teach it as there aren't enough good BSL teachers around.

The amount of poor quality so called "BSL" signed song videos on YouTube and other social media is one of my bug bears. It's so disheartening reading glowing comments about how marvellous these videos are when they don't respect deaf people or their language, and shows just how ignorant a lot of people are about sign language.

What's your view on all this?

Alstroemerian6 karma


I am glad to read that you have good ATW support. It seems increasingly rare these days.

I know exactly what you mean regarding accessing other platforms for debate and discussion. Televised debates are indeed often so limited in topics and depth. One area that has been of great interest to me personally in the last couple of years have been podcasts. I listen to many different podcasts and regularly find myself wishing that there were more hours in the day for me to sit and transcribe some of the discussions and debates so I can share them with my Mother.

One frustrating thing for me over the years has been the attitude of people when it comes to watching subtitled films in the cinema. On one (very rare) occasion, Mum had the opportunity to attend a subtitled film showing. I was gobsmacked to learn that one person started complaining during the showing about the fact that the film was subtitled. The individual went out and complained to the cinema management about it. It was clearly advertised as a subtitled screening..... It's not the only occasion I've heard of where something like that has happened.

I worked for a few years in a charity providing practical support to deaf people across the UK. I met and worked with a couple of Teachers of the Deaf and was horrified to learn about the conditions they have to work under. Massive caseloads across huge areas mixed with cuts to these provisions by local authorities...... It was clear to me how demoralising it must be to have to provide such an essential service in the face of such adversity. Unfortunately my concerns about education in the UK at the moment are not just limited to provisions for deaf children. I have seen increasing numbers of stories in the news and from various other sources about the depth of cuts to education and how this is impacting on students who need extra support to follow the standard curriculum. I hope, for the sake of the current generation of school-age children, that we see major political change in the UK sooner rather than later.

My opinion is that you touched on a wider debate about differentiating between BSL and SSE re your comment about signed songs. However, what I struggle with most when it comes to signed songs is that (mostly) signers only focus on lyrics. I went through the 'usual' teenage phase of loud rock music and over time Mum learnt to identify the sounds of different instruments (e.g. guitar, drums, bass guitar) from how the vibrations felt. As far as music goes, there is so much more to communicate than just lyrics.

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Absolutely agree with your comment about people complaining at subtitle screenings. That's probably why cinemas always show them at stupid times when most deaf people can't go.

Yes, most signed songs only focus on lyrics rather than just music. Hopefully that's not an area that I fall down in!

Kenjamin9116 karma

What influenced you to start playing music even though you couldn't hear it? Was Beethoven's loss of hearing and later works an influence on you?

PaulWhittakerOBE32 karma

Despite my deafness, I was aware of a lot of music going on in the home, and at age 5 decided I wanted to play the piano. 2 years later, I joined the local church choir and through that developed an interest in the organ, which I started to learn when 12. At 14, I took charge of my own choir. Originally I considered a career as a concert pianist or organist, but couldn’t really be bothered to practice enough (!) so eventually decided to aim for a University place to read for a music degree. Over a 2-year period I applied to 12 Universities and was rejected by all of them because of my deafness :(

I wouldn't say that Beethoven's loss of hearing and his later works were an influence on me at all. The onset of his deafness was gradual so he had the benefit of hearing music when he was young; whereas I was born deaf so don't have that advantage.

Having said that, I do feel there are some strange ideas about how Beethoven's deafness affected him and I wrote an article about this a few years ago. If you want to see it, let me know.

Blackdog8249 karma

You mention how you can feel the vibrations from a piano. Is there anything similar when playing an organ?

PaulWhittakerOBE23 karma

It is harder playing an organ than a piano because the tactile sensation is far less. Also quite often, the organ console is separate from the actual workings of the instrument so you have additional acoustic barriers to manage.

With an older organ, the action of the instrument may be quite slow anyway, so there is a delay between pressing a key down and a sound coming out of a pipe. That's just one of those things that you have to learn to deal with! Playing an organ with tracker action, where you have a kind of double pressing of the key (like on a harpsichord) is fun because it's incredible tactile.

Linked to this question - I've always had problems playing electric pianos or keyboards due to an almost total lack of tactile sensation and numerous occasions have been playing away very happily without realising there is no sound being produced whatsoever.

Blackdog82410 karma

Your sight-reading skills must have been very well developed at 12 to start playing organ!

PaulWhittakerOBE16 karma

My sight reading skills were very well developed by the time I was 8. The challenge with the organ was reading 3 staves of music at once rather than just 2 for the piano.

TheOtherMatt5 karma

I’d be keen to read your article if you wouldn’t mind posting a link, please.

PaulWhittakerOBE20 karma

Here's the article:

As a deaf musician I’ve been asked on countless occasions how I ‘hear’ and understand music, and frequently been on the receiving end of the quizzical, “Beethoven – he was deaf wasn’t he?” comment, as if the person asking was unsure of the fact and was trying to process the apparent paradox of a ‘deaf musician.’

I’ll always remember a syndicated article in the US press in 1983 which told of a “young man named Whittaker who lives in a small town 200 miles north of London” – that’s Huddersfield – and who, “despite being profoundly deaf has been accepted by Oxford University to read for a music degree.” According to the journalist I had succeeded in this because, “When he sits down to play the piano Beethoven comes and tells him what to do.” As another journalist once told me, “Never let truth get in the way of a good story,” something both Beethoven and I have been victims of.

Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I have never heard from Beethoven and have no desire to. I doubt we would get on very well, as he seems to have been a rather grumpy, stubborn and irritable person (as an adult, at least.) But it is largely inevitable that people will, when meeting a deaf musician, think of Beethoven.

I’m not a Beethoven scholar by any means but I have never considered his deafness as an issue: my attitude is very much, “So what? Big deal.” We know that Beethoven started losing his hearing in his late teenage years, by which time he had learned a fair amount about his craft and about orchestration. I don’t deny for a moment that he was increasingly frustrated, perhaps even scared, about losing his hearing but – from a musical point of view – he had nothing to worry about. He was, as we also know, driven by a need to compose, but he didn’t need to hear what he was composing. He had all that music in his head, he wrote it down in sketchbooks, working things out and revising them and knew when it was finally correct.

I recall one Beethoven biography in the 1980’s making a huge issue of him sawing the legs off his piano so that it could lie flat on the floor, thus enabling him to feel it better. The author went on to say that the piano came to be in a terrible state of repair due to Beethoven playing is so aggressively, through frustration at not being able to hear it properly. That made me laugh as I find it almost too ridiculous to be true. It’s wanton destruction of an expensive instrument, for one thing: it would be very uncomfortable playing a piano lying flat on the floor: he was a temperamental man (surely the neighbours would have complained about the racket!): and he didn’t need to hear it because he knew in his head what it sounded like.

I suppose it makes a good story but, to me, it reveals a lack of understanding about deafness. Sometimes I think Beethoven needs saving from some of the more bizarre theories that go around.

It would be interesting to know what contemporary attitudes towards deafness were like in Beethoven’s time. This isn’t the place to go into deaf history in any detail, though up to the early 17th century the Church had long propagated the belief that a child’s deafness was the result of God punishing sinful parents. Deaf people were excluded from taking part in religious worship and their status as human beings was on a level with “imbeciles;” they were often incarcerated away from everyone else and it was felt impossible to educate them, For a long time “deaf and dumb people” were not allowed to make a will or ti inherit property from their families.

By the 18th century attitudes had, thankfully, improved. Some forms of sign language had developed, although within German-speaking lands the emphasis was still very much on oral education and learning to speak. During Beethoven’s early years the first completely oral school was founded, influenced by the work of Konrad Amman, who insisted that speech was the only thing that separated human beings from animals.

From that angle Beethoven was fortunate. If he had been born deaf that I doubt whether he would have had much of an education, any access to music, or become a composer. And even though Beethoven is probably the most famous deaf person in history, within Deaf History and Culture he’s unlikely to get a look-in at all, simply because he was deafened. Somewhat ironically, he’s not really recognised by the Deaf community.

Do I see Beethoven as a role model? No, actually, I don’t. I admire him but that doesn’t mean, as some people think, that I absolutely adore every note of music he wrote, or feel an affinity with him. If I did meet him I suspect that we would perhaps share some satisfaction in accepting and overcoming our deafness, and acknowledging that our music is a fundamental part of who were are and makes our lives worth living.

becausefrog5 karma

Regarding the Universities rejecting you due to deafness, was this because they didn't know what to do with you, or because they wouldn't/couldn't alter the ear training requirements for you?

For my undergraduate degree the ear training was intense, and a huge part of the program. We had to pass a 64 Interval test, sight singing, and dictation exams to even stay in the program. The music department at my University had the highest non-completion rate because people couldn't pass the 64 Interval Test, so counselors would actually discourage people from being a music major. I imagine most of those things would have been difficult for you, except perhaps for sight singing?

Did you try any music conservatories instead? They tend to be less concerned with the above and more centered on performance practice.

PaulWhittakerOBE7 karma

I suspect it was a bit of both. No doubt they were scared of how to cope with a deaf musician. I'm sure the aural requirements were part of it, too.

I took one diploma exam where they completely refused to change the aural test in any way and only backed down after a media campaign gave them bad publicity. I feel the situation would not happen now but I'm not always comfortable with the alternative arrangements that are sometimes made for deaf candidates. We want the same diploma/degree qualifications as anyone else - not a lesser version of it. There are other ways of assessing someones musicality and musicianship aside from aural tests.

I didn't apply for music conservatories because I wanted a music degree with more focus on academic and theoretical work than on performing.

becausefrog2 karma

Have you ever considered helping develop guidelines for musical education and a testing standard that enables deaf musicians to get such a degree? You seem like the perfect person to get the ball rolling.

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

For 27 years, I ran a charity - 'Music And The Deaf' - and spent a lot of time dealing with music education, including creating a guide to teaching music for deaf children. I left over 3 years ago and now work freelance.

Although we achieved a lot, there is still much to be done - particularly in ensuring that exam board really do meet the needs of deaf candidates and that Universities and conservatoires encourage and welcome applications from deaf musicians.

becausefrog1 karma

That's awesome. Thank you! I hope this AMA helps more people become aware of this. Is there a link to the teaching guide? I'm happy to spread the word among my colleagues here in the States.

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

Email me please - [email protected]

bokucakes15 karma

Your English is good so where/when did you learn to sign and does/did your family sign, or is it like a lot of people of your generation with parents refusing to sign with their child?

PaulWhittakerOBE32 karma

My own education was oral and I started signing when I was 10 years old. At that age, I moved from my local primary school to one in Bradford and travelled on the same bus as children going to the school for the deaf over there. Those children could sign and I just watched and copied as the bus ride was about an hour each way.

I have two sisters - one deaf, one hearing - and they both sign. My deaf sister was educated orally, as when she was at school sign language was formally banned because of the Milan conference 1880 (Google it for more info!). She started signing when she was 16.

Mum and Dad both attempted to sign but I know of many, many families where parents sadly make little or no effort to communicate with their deaf child.

I read a lot when I was young (and still do) and find English fascinating. Having both English and BSL skills is, I feel, a huge advantage, especially when it comes to translating signed songs.

TheOtherMatt14 karma

I cannot imagine not wanting to sign if it meant I could communicate with my child. Absolutely mind boggling to think parents wouldn’t learn to sign. I’m not deaf, don’t know anyone deaf and yet I would still like to learn some signing fundamentals.

PaulWhittakerOBE8 karma

It is cruel how some parents just don't bother to learn to sign and communicate with their children. Find yourself a signing class - good luck!

nopelandic3 karma

What's your favorite book?

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Ooo that's a hard one. I don't have a favourite book, but one of the best books I've read recently is The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce which really made me think about the way people listen to and talk about music.

Blackgunter13 karma

Is there any feedback loop that you use when playing music to make sure you are keeping time/pitch? Can you feel any vibrations that help you keep on track or is it just a matter of accurately transcribing sheet music into movement for you?

PaulWhittakerOBE15 karma

I guess this question is linked to signed song. I don't use any equipment apart from my hearing aids, but can only translate a song when I've seen the sheet music, learned it, and memorised it. I then spend time going through the song with my interpreters, checking timing, multi-tracking, and other musical elements. Once I've completed that process, the recording of a song is pretty well implanted in my brain, though I still have to rely on vibrations to follow it when performing.

On occasions, I do keep an eye on my interpreter so that they can mouth lyrics if I get out of time but this doesn't often happen. Rather, I mentally fast forward to certain chords and when those specific vibrations hit me, I know I'm in time.

Swims_With_Dogs10 karma

Do you know other sign languages, such as American Sign Language? I have a degree in music and I took ASL courses at my university. I would love to be more involved in deaf music culture. How do I do that? I am hearing ( actually I sometimes suspect that I have over sensitive hearing) but I have great earplugs to protect myself if need be.

PaulWhittakerOBE8 karma

With my work, I travel to many countries, but I'm never there long enough to acquire local sign language skills. For my involvement with ASL, see my reply to /u/NeutralSabrina.

If you were in the UK, I would do my best to involve you in some of my work so you could gain experience. Sadly, you're not in the UK, and I don't actually know of any national organisations in the US that focus on music work with deaf people. My suggestion would be to investigate local deaf schools and deaf centres, find out what music and arts activities they have, and offer to help. You could also try contacting local professional music venues, orchestras, bands, etc, etc, to ask if they have any engagement with the deaf community.

Great to know that you have ear plugs to protect your hearing. So many people don't realise how easily their hearing can be damaged - it's so important to look after it because once you lose it, it's gone!

Good luck.

NeutralSabrina9 karma

Have you ever done ASL or met someone with ASL? You mention BSL.

What's the hardest piece you played?

Any instrument you tried, but gave up on it?

PaulWhittakerOBE12 karma

I spent almost 2 months in the USA back in 1992 and picked up a fair bit of ASL at that point, but have forgotten most of it now. The differences between ASL and BSL are profound and I admit that I find it hard to follow as I'm not exposed to it enough.

The hardest piece I've ever played is probably anything by Bach! I think Bach was an absolute genius but have never enjoyed playing his music in public, maybe because every other Organist thinks they know how to play Bach better than you do! There are some incredibly difficult contemporary pieces which I have never bothered learning, but may one day get around to.

One instrument that I'd love to learn is the cello, but the only instrument I've ever tried and given up on is the violin. I just found it uncomfortable to play, my fingers are used to being on a keyboard not a fingerboard, and the sound I produced was extremely painful for others!

Nymphsub8 karma

How you doing doc ?

PaulWhittakerOBE14 karma

I am doing fine, thanks. Hope you are too. As I'm not a medical Doctor, please don't ask me to treat you if there is anything wrong!

q-p-q12 karma

Music treats the soul though, doesn't it?

PaulWhittakerOBE8 karma


welsh_dragon_roar3 karma

What would you recommend for a profound existential torpor?

PaulWhittakerOBE4 karma

I need to think about this one... so much music to choose from.

mrsfran7 karma

Hi Paul. I'm a CODA in the UK (you might know my mum, she lives in Reading and had her own theatre company in the 90s called Co-Sign and directed Titus Andronicus in BSL in Bolton - her initials are CT).

My question is - when you're doing stage interpreting what do you use as your timing clues when you're not able to see the actors? Have you got a screen prompt, do you follow the conductor?

I'm a big Sondheim fan, so good work on doing the Sondheim at 80 gig! Have you seen Hamilton? That would be a NIGHTMARE to interpret :D

Bonus question: what is your favourite sign?

PaulWhittakerOBE6 karma

Hello hello (and best wishes to your Mum).

Doing that Sondheim Prom was the best night of my life, but there was a lot of pressure. No, I haven't seen Hamilton yet.

When I do stage interpreting, I memorise the entire script, score and blocking. Obviously I find shows with dialogue really hard, so I tend to remember how long a speech is, where the pauses are, and then match my signing to the pauses. I've rely very much on the conductor and last year used a screen prompt for the first time. That was a massive help but I felt my performance lacked something through relying on a feed rather than my own memory.

I do very little stage work these days but do miss it.

I don't have a favourite sign. What's yours?

mtrld6 karma

Have you ever composed any music? I imagine it would hard as you were born deaf.

PaulWhittakerOBE10 karma

I know how to compose and once or twice I have written short pieces for people I know, but would not call myself a composer. I prefer arranging music, especially for voices, as this challenges my imagination, but it's always easier writing or arranging for people or ensembles that you know rather than for strangers.

I don't find it hard to do simply because I've had a lot of musical training and have a lot of theoretical and academic knowledge. I admit that it would be nice to actually hear the performance taking place and experience the effect of sound in that specific building, but simply because I've never been able to hear, I don't spend any time getting upset or worrying about it.

bkanber6 karma

I'm a musician and my uncle is a hard of hearing musician, so I appreciate all you've done. Thank you.

My question is: is your full title "Dr. Sir Paul" or "Sir Dr. Paul"? Very important, need to know.

PaulWhittakerOBE6 karma

Thank you for your comment. I'd be interested to know what your uncle plays and how he copes with his hearing loss.

I have not been knighted, I am just Paul Whittaker OBE, but you can call me Paul.

BeesBeware5 karma

Hello Paul, I hope I'm not too late...

Have you done much work with people who have aquired hearing loss? I'm asking because of my Dad; he has been hard-of-hearing all his life but it has been deteriorating at a constant rate. Listening to music has always been one of his greatest passions, but recently he stopped listening to music because he says he can't really enjoy it anymore. I'm really saddened by this and wondered if people like him can find other ways to enjoy the music they love so much?

PS. nice to see a fellow person from Huddersfield!

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Hello fellow Huddersfield person!

I have worked off and on for 30 years with people who have an acquired hearing loss. So often they need much more support and encouragement and really struggle to adapt to having hearing loss. Hearing aids will only give a limited amount of help and, sadly, I know of many people like your Dad who stop listening to music because they say they can't enjoy it anymore.

If you wish to email me, then perhaps we could meet up and I could also meet your Dad to try and offer help and advice - [email protected]

aarontbarratt5 karma

Do you have interest in other genres of music than classical? Do you dig hip hop or jazz?

PaulWhittakerOBE6 karma

My background is classical but I enjoy some other types as well - rock, pop, some traditional jazz (preferably vocal). Not really into hip hop and not at all into rap (but that style places more importance on lyrics than music I guess.)

kitty_cat_MEOW5 karma

How did you like working with Vin Diesel in the Fast and the Furious movies?

PaulWhittakerOBE7 karma

You should see my driving skills. I can sign and drive at the same time (don't try this at home).

kseno4 karma

How have you stayed positive when people in authority told you that you cannot do what hearing people do?

Thank you for sharing! It is very encouraging to learn about your music. I’m hearing impaired too and was recently told that I could not be in sound art class by a professor in a very famous art school. She outright said that she could not accommodate me as a disabled student who cannot hear very well. According to her, a reputable sound artist, I’m basically unteachable and disruptive because i need differentiated instruction. She also did not want my assistive listening device- neck loop around her equipment because she thought it might disrupt her recordings during class. It would not.

I’m leaving this art school next year and transferring to another school who offered me a doctrinal degree to research how schools can better accommodate students with hearing impairments. I will fight back with my pen.

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

It wasn't always easy staying positive and I would have got really pissed off with your professor's attitude. Sadly, some people are so consumed by their own importance that they totally fail to teach, support, and encourage others. Hopefully, you will have a much better experience next year.

Having the support of family and friends was vital at the times I was told I couldn't do what I want, but I never wanted to give up because I was so passionate about music and about sharing it with other people.

Very best of luck to you in pursuing your chosen career. Go for it!

brooke2613 karma

How did the queen look in person? Taller or shorter than you expected? And what did she say to you?

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

It was the third time I've met The Queen when I got my OBE. The first time, we chatted about my work. The second was a brief introduction as part of a welcoming party, and the third was congratulating me on receiving an OBE.

She was shorter than I expected but has immense presence and makes you feel like you're the only person in the room.

brooke2613 karma

Thank you so much for answering my question. Might I also ask what actually happens after you get your OBE? is there a formal dinner that occurs?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

No, there is no formal dinner. You go to an investiture, have your photo taken, then go home. If you want a formal dinner, you arrange it yourself and hope your friends will pay!

rhinowing3 karma

Do you ever attend amplified rock concerts? I've been to some Grateful Dead shows where groups of deaf fans held balloons in order to amplify the vibrations from the bass and "listen" to the show.

You also might find (electronic) bass music interesting, in a live setting it's as much vibration as audible tone when played on the right PA

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

I find live music really painful so I'm not sure how I'd cope at an amplified rock concert. I know of other events where deaf people have held balloons, though I would've thought they would be able to feel enough at a Grateful Dead concert without a balloon!

Sasarai3 karma

What is your favourite organ stop? I also play and love the 16' stops as you can really feel them rumbling through your underparts.

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

I love a really raspy 16' fagot stop.

DeafinitelyCanHear3 karma

Hey Doc! I have a severe to profound hearing loss and I've been thinking about learning an instrument. I have a cochlear implant and hearing aid. I am located in Australia!

I have had my eyes on piano or trumpet for a while now, what steps could I take? I might check out your website, that may answer my questions.

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Hi! Great to hear from you ;) my simple answer is to have a go at loads of instruments then decide which ones you like best! Whatever you choose to play, I would recommend that you find a teacher but probably not someone who is too formal.

I don't have any info on my website about playing different instruments, but I do have a friend in Australia who has done a lot of work on music and deafness. Her name is Karen Kyriakou. Google her. She is based in Melbourne.

Do let me know if you contact her and how you get on. Good luck!

D-Rez3 karma

Big fan of Dame Evelyn Glennie, seen her perform live before. Are there any currently performing deaf musicians you want to give a shout out to?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

Evelyn and I have known each other for over 30 years but haven't met up recently.

Among the deaf musicians I know and admire are James Holt, Sean Chandler, and Eloise Ruth Garland.

euterpesf3 karma

I am a piano teacher and musician, and due to a congenital defect, I am basically deaf now without my hearing aids. With them I can hear the piano just fine, although I have an extremely difficult time understanding speech. I am mostly just commenting to say thanks for posting, because I was wondering if I was the only one out there. What support resources do you recommend for hard of hearing/Deaf musicians? I spend so much time being angry about losing my hearing and I’d like to focus that energy elsewhere.

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

You're not alone by a long way. Being angry is totally understandable but I hope you can channel that into something positive.

it's tricky recommending support resources as each person's needs are different. You clearly have a lot of musical knowledge and experience though, and that puts you in a good place to cope. Please can you email me on [email protected] and we can have a more in-depth chat about how I could help and support you.

q-p-q3 karma

How would it feel for you if you could hear music ?

Is it possible to treat your deafness ?

Thank you for doing this.

PaulWhittakerOBE8 karma

It would be interesting to know what music sounded like, but because I've never been able to hear properly, it's not something that I could make a comparison about. I feel it would be quite traumatic having to learn what all the different instruments, and the sounds around me are, and being deaf makes me who I am. So being able to hear would probably not be better at all, just different. If I could hear, I wouldn't be me! And I wouldn't have done the things that I have.

Lots of people suggest that I get a Cochlear Implant, but I don't want one. I'm sure that if my deafness could've been treated when I was young, then it would've been, but deaf I am, and deaf I will remain!

StayFrosty962 karma

I find it very fascinating that the deaf and blind are often very content with the situation they're in. Even to the point that they'd refuse cures for their illness because they'd lose part of their character in the progress. (As you beautifully said "If I could hear, I wouldn't be me!"). Here's a video of Ray Charles pertaining to the same emotion (autosubtitles are semi accurate)

I think I'd rather lose all identity I have as well as grip on who I am, than lose either my hearing or sight.

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

Yep, I know far too many deaf people who are content with the situation they're in and refuse to stand up and move forward. Education has a lot to do with it, as is the lack of support from some families. Deaf role models are important and we need many more of those.

Thanks for the Ray Charles video.

thatdirtymick133 karma

Are you Frankie Wilde’s dad?

PaulWhittakerOBE1 karma

Nope. I'm nobody's Dad.

thatdirtymick131 karma


PaulWhittakerOBE1 karma

Now there's a great DJ with a hearing problem.

justAHairyMeatBag3 karma

Have you ever tried listening to music through bone conduction ? What are your thoughts on it?

PaulWhittakerOBE5 karma

I have tried listening through bone conduction in the past but found that it gave me less information than using hearing aids and relying on normal vibration.

rvbrindle3 karma

Hi! If you could take a pill and have 100% hearing at this stage in your life, would you do it? as it might change perspective on music you love already? or would that be a super easy decision :)


PaulWhittakerOBE4 karma

No way. My deafness is part of who I am and I'm so used to understand and perceiving music in the way that I do.

It's an interesting though, but the sensory overload would be too much to bear.

bokucakes3 karma

Did you ever experience bullying because of your deafness? How did you learn to speak English without being able to hear?

PaulWhittakerOBE11 karma

There were occasions when I was bullied at middle school and secondary school, but I couldn't say if this was linked to my deafness or not. I never told anyone about it at the time, but now realise that I should've done.

I've encountered discrimination because of my deafness on various occasions, especially when I was applying to University to read for a music degree, and was told "Deaf people can't be musicians". Another occasion was when I was taking a music diploma exam on the organ and was not allowed to take anyone with me for a practice session: I need someone there to tell me if the balance between manuals is okay and if I'm playing for the acoustics of the room. The examining body then failed me for not playing for the acoustics of the room, which was rather annoying.

When I was very young, the use of sign language in education was banned, but because I have an older sister who is deaf, my parents knew some of the problems and pitfalls of bringing up a deaf child. I always loved reading so developed a big vocabulary at a young age. I learned words by being taught them phonetically. If I mispronounced something, I was corrected. I don't recall ever having speech therapy or finding it hard to talk (and I can talk a lot!), but nowadays, if I come across a word that I am unsure of how to pronounce, I will find another word with the same meaning rather than risk embarrassment by saying it incorrectly.

techhit8 karma

I find it really interesting that you speak with a British accent too.

PaulWhittakerOBE21 karma

I can speak wi' a Yorkshire accent if tha wants mi to.

roland3333 karma

What's the difference between profoundly deaf and regular deaf?

PaulWhittakerOBE4 karma

The standard categories of deafness are mild, moderate, severe, and profound. The first category a hearing aid will usually help a lot. The second, hearing aids may not help and there are possible communication difficulties. The final two, hearing aids generally don't help and you are more likely to be a sign language user.

Xandeerr2 karma

That's really impressive! How would you have reacted back when you were 11 if someone told you that you would get an OBE for services to music?

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Thank you very much. I guess I would've been very surprised if someone told me that one day I would get an OBE. To be honest, I'm still surprised 10 years later as I've just spent my whole life doing what I love, and the fact that I get recognised for it is a bonus.

ClareEli2 karma

What originally got you interested in music, and did you have any hesitation about starting to study music?

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

For my original interest in music - see some of my other replies in this thread. I never had any hesitation about starting to study music and knew from a young age it was what I wanted to do. Nobody was going to stop me!

Danitoba2 karma

Wasn't it Bach that was deaf? Or was it beethoven? It was one of the old greats...

PaulWhittakerOBE5 karma

Bach went blind towards the end of his life, but it was Beethoven who was deaf, and they are both great.

officialimguraffe2 karma

Have you seen the movie, 'Mr Holland's Opus' ?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

Yes I have. I saw it when it was first released and really should watch it again. I recall being quite frustrated at the main characters behaviour and attitude towards deafness, but probably cried buckets at the end.

thisnewyears2 karma

Are you related to Roger Whittaker?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

No, I've been asked this before outside of Reddit. But when I was a kid, I did wonder...

sourorangeYT2 karma

How do you know if your music will be good if you can’t hear it? How to you know what it is like?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

My training enabled me to know whether it's good or not. I certainly know when I've gone wrong so then have to go back and work out exactly where and why I made a mistake.

With a full orchestral piece, I know what it's like because of the detail in the score, and watch the conductor and players to discern nuances of interpretation. I can never really tell what pop, rock, jazz recordings are like as sheet music is usually pretty basic for those genres. However, interpreters and friends will occasionally help me fill in the gaps by explaining what's going on.

someone_you_may_know2 karma

Is the world quiet to you or do you hear white noise and soft mumbles?

Also do you get handicap parking or no as a deaf person?

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Yes, the world is very quiet indeed, especially when I switch my hearing aids off or leave them out. In fact, it's totally silent. With hearing aids, I pick up general noise but cannot identify what it is, what direction it's coming from, nor speech. If I take my glasses off, I've got an even bigger problem because I can't see to lip read or see anyone signing!

No, I don't get free parking.

blckravn012 karma

Where may I find recordings of your arrangements or playing? Which are you most proud to show off?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

There is only one recording of any arrangement I have done, and that was for Manchester Lesbian and Gay chorus. It was an arrangement of 'Seasons of Love'. I have hardly any recordings of me playing, so perhaps I should do more and put them on my website.

sachfan2 karma

Your story is incredible and absolutely inspiring. All the best for your future endeavors :) I have been learning flute for the past two years. What advice would you give me to make good progress? I am learning carnatic music.

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Thank you very much indeed for your kind comments. The best advice I can give is to exposure yourself to as much music as possible. Practice and talk to as many musicians as you can to find out what makes the tick. I admit that I know nothing about Carnatic music, sorry. Good luck!

Mrs-Jamm2 karma

Hi! I’m a CODA in the US and wondered if you consider yourself Deaf (culturally Deaf) or deaf (hearing loss)?

As an aside, I love seeing Deaf people proving that Deaf Can! Recently read about the first deaf police officer in the US (she’s in Texas, I believe).

And my (Deaf) dad has always been a big fan of music, I used to interpret songs for him while he had huge headphones on with the sound up real high so he could feel the vibrations of the beat.

PaulWhittakerOBE7 karma

Hi. I've always had a problem with the phrase 'Deaf Culture' because it often seems to exclude things that are important to me like music and literature. I find that Deaf Culture can be quite limiting and don't understand why deaf experience needs to be sidelined into something quite exclusive.

I realise that's quite a political point but I wish to see people engaging with and experiencing life in all it's variety rather than just a little bit of it.

Deaf people can indeed do anything, but I know quite a few who need a good kick in order to get them moving!

I see myself a deaf person who is cultured.

LesintheAtl892 karma

Hi, Dr Whitaker, since the advent of closed captions and text messages do you feel this equalizes both the hearing and hard of hearing people and how does it aid you in your engagement with the world?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

Closed captions and especially texting have made a massive difference to me and to many deaf people.

Live captioning can still be frustrating when it doesn't give the right information and captioning on DVD's does not always give full information. Technology alone isn't enough for us to feel fully equal in a hearing world, but the situation is certainly better than it was when I was a child.

Texting, messenger, WhatsApp, things like Reddit, make a big difference if you have decent written skills but for a lot of sign language users, they have more limited use and impact.

offenderWILLbeBANNED2 karma

What does profoundly deaf mean?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

See my other reply regarding this.

AmaiRose2 karma

How does one get an OBE? Does someone else nominate you? Do you fill out a form. Do you just do your own thing not thinking about it and then one day a letter arrives? Is it your music or your music charity work that pushed you over the edge?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

Someone nominates you and they encourage other people to send letters of support. You are unaware of this until a letter arrives from 10 Downing Street saying you have been awarded something. It can take several years to get one.

The OBE was for services to music, so would cover both my music education and my charity work.

Playisomemusik1 karma

How does profoundly deaf differ from deaf deaf?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

See this thread. Already answered :)

Twoisnoe1 karma

It seems that music must be like a 'beautiful language' to you, and like BSL, not all languages need to be audible to have beauty!

When you are composing something in the mind, do you imagine it in a sensory form, or do you visualise a 'notation' of sorts in your head as you go, like reading?

Also, do you think there is any 'hereditary' nature to musical thinking, within your family, beyond simply growing up in a musical household? Are either of your siblings musically inclined in any way, or is it just you?

I ask this because I come from a family where one side definitely had musical tendencies - including that trait of 'playing by ear' - which I inherited (neither of my siblings did). As a hearing person, I could not discipline myself to ignore this instinctual auditory recall, (even with several years of lessons) and am still terrible at sight reading as a result. The act of trying to play without being allowed to hear, would (in hindsight) have been the only way I could have learned how to read successfully, I think!

I wonder if you had some other instinctual equivalent, musically, that presented itself in 'playing by touch', or did the reading aspect come before you set hand to a piano? (Or was it a bit of both?)

The potential of playing by sight (without sound), or playing by touch, is wonderful - to consider the different sensory aspects that surround music beyond the auditory. My apologies for so many questions, but I get nerdily fascinated by how the mind works, especially when it comes to processing music! Thank you for doing this AmA.

P.S. - I saw on another response that you had tried the violin but not so successfully! Please, if you have the opportunity, try a Nyckelharpa. (a.k.a. "Swedish keyed fiddle".) It has remarkable resonance - and is pitched by a series of keys along the neck!

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

Thank you so much for your message which gives a lot of food for thought. Music is indeed a beautiful language, as can BSL when used fluently and artistically.

When I'm composing, I usually have at least a melody or chord in my head which I then write down and add the harmony to. I sometimes struggle with working out the exact pitch of what I'm seeking but I'm often reluctant to share any compositions with people because they will criticise and pick holes in it, and therefore it ends up not being 'mine'. Does that make sense?

My Mum was musical and my paternal Grandfather was musical, but not my Dad. He enjoyed listening to it, but couldn't make it, and couldn't sing. Both my sisters are musical. Mary - my deaf sister - used to play the guitar and the trumpet, and Anne - my hearing sister - plays piano and woodwind.

It amazes me how many people think I can pick up music by ear and play by ear, even though they know I'm deaf. There are occasions when being able to pick up music aurally would be fantastic but it is obviously impossible for me to do so. Whether there's an additional instinctual sense that I have to compensate for my hearing loss is debatable. Yes, I've always been able to sight read well and used to be able to learn pieces really really quickly. This is something I may need to explore more one day.

I haven't heard of the Nyckelharpa so I will check it out. Not sure how many there are in Yorkshire...

FireSpiderGuy1 karma

I know I’m a bit late, but have you seen Mr. Holland’s Opus and if so, what do you think of it?

NateDawg4231 karma

What inspired you to make music?

PaulWhittakerOBE1 karma

It was there! See comments in thread really :)

Fredstien8501 karma

What is your DAW of choice? (FL Studio, Ableton, the cancer that is Cubase)

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

I don't use any at all. If I write or arrange music, I put it on manuscript paper. I'm old school. The problem with using any kind of digital music composition program is that I can't feel what it sounds like.

millennium7771 karma

Can you still feel goosebumps when sight-reading music? In the sense that when someone with full hearing would get goosebumps from hearing beautiful music do you get the same reaction when reading the sheet music? Thank you for your inspirational story!

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Great question, and the answer is yes. Sometimes I get goosebumps from reading the score, but not while I actually experience the music being played, live or recorded.

Sometimes the reality is more disappointing than the imagination.

Evarrice1 karma

Can someone still enjoy music if he or she have some hearing problems?

If so, how?

PaulWhittakerOBE11 karma

The short, simple answer is yes. I suppose it depends on whether you're enjoying music passively or actively - is the person making music or listening to it?

I have always maintained that if a deaf person wants a career as a musician, they have to learn a lot about it theoretically, academically, technically. When I was at University, my tutor once told me that I was the easiest student he'd ever had to teach. When I asked him why, he said it was because I was deaf and therefore had to rely on a printed score. He pointed out that, when asked to analyse a piece of music, most people just went away and listened to it. Because I couldn't do that, but had to rely on reading a score, he said that I noticed far more information and was therefore more analytical.

I feel it's easier to make music as a deaf person if you've had a hearing loss from birth or a young age. Coping with an acquired hearing loss (or any disability) is much harder because you're so used to being able to hear, see, or whatever, and it's harder for your brain and body to adjust. Over the years, I've often felt that I have let people with acquired hearing loss down because I couldn't help them as much as I wanted to and felt that they would benefit more from 1:1 help which distance precluded me being able to do.

The earlier you can expose anyone to music, the better. Let them explore the range that is available. Try lots of instruments and styles so that they find something that they like and enjoy, then from that you can begin to develop more detailed interests and knowledge. For me, hearing loss is irrelevant. It's about passion, participation, and enjoyment.

Every individual has their own interpretation of music, their own taste, likes, and dislikes. One of the great things about music is that it can never really be wrong. It's entirely what you make of it.

Evarrice2 karma

Thank you for this.

I recently aquired some degree of minor hearing problems from which I still don't know the cause.

And let's just say the whole thing was really life changing so I really appreciate your answer.

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

Sorry to know about your hearing problems and hope you get them sorted. It will be a difficult time for you, I'm sure, but do talk to other people with experience of hearing loss and remain positive.

If you read through some of my other replies, hopefully you can find some encouragement there as well. Are you involved in music at all?

thenewaddition1 karma

Can you whistle a tune? I feel like I can feel the pitch of my whistle, but stopping up ones ears isn't the same as shutting them off, so I can't be sure the "feeling" isn't just conductive hearing. You provide a unique opportunity to answer a long wondered curiosity.

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

No, I can't whistle a tune. I can whistle a note. I can hear a tune in my head, but when I try to whistle it, it never comes out correctly. For example, someone asked me about 'The Simpsons' tune the other day saying that everyone knows it. I didn't! I know what it looks like on paper but don't know what it sounds like.

nepalnt211 karma

how can the queen give you an out of body experience?

(lol just kidding)

can you explain what an obe is? is it like getting knighted?

PaulWhittakerOBE5 karma

OBE is Officer of the Order of the British Empire. It's the middle one of three rankings; Member (MBE), Officer (OBE), Commander (CBE).

Getting knighted is even higher up and I'm not there... yet.

readball1 karma

I hope I am not late. :) Thank you for the AMA Dr Paul Whittaker!

Wow. I am shocked!

  1. Was ever, anyone jealous of you? :)

  2. I am not a musician, not sure how to write this down, but sometimes when you press 2 sounds on the keyboard of the piano, those 2 sounds are totally NOT matching. It is something like a screech for my ears. Do you have anything like that when using the piano vibrations?

  3. This might be a stupid question, but, can you whistle? :-)

PaulWhittakerOBE3 karma

I'm sure people have been jealous, but they've never come up to my face and told me so!

I think you're talking about dissonance here, which is where you get two sounds which don't sound pleasant together. Yes, it still feels like a dissonance through vibration. Scientifically, you have certain notes that work in harmony with one another, and others that don't, and it's both an aural and physical sensation.

I can't whistle. See other reply about that.

marsohi1 karma

This isn’t a question, but I imagine you could compose with pure objectivity, relying only on your theoretical knowledge vs. hearing the piece.

Have you though deeply or talked about this with other musicians? What’s your take on(or approach to) composition as a hearing-impaired musician?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

Yes I could. I have talked about this with other musicians, and it's how I think Beethoven composed many of his works after losing his hearing. He didn't need to hear the music physically - he had it all in his head. My approach to composition is the same as a hearing musician. I have something musical I want to express, and wish to share that with other people. Though whether anyone else would want to listen to it is a moot point.

Doppel-Banger0 karma

Why does your brother, Forrest, have that lazy eye?

PaulWhittakerOBE1 karma

I poked him in it when he was young...

tawy121-1 karma

Do you have perfect pitch?

PaulWhittakerOBE2 karma

No I don't, but I have a very secure sense of pitch - apart from when I'm singing, then it goes all over the place.

jgh328-1 karma

How can you read and respond to these questions if u are deaf?

PaulWhittakerOBE1 karma

I have eyes, so I can see, I have good English skills, so I can decipher the words; it's just my ears that don't work very well.