THE plight of people living with disabilities has struck a chord with a local community after they were inspired by a deaf pianist.
Musician Paul Whittaker was a premature baby and as a result has never heard a single sound, yet the 47-year-old was able to learn how to speak, play the piano and study music at Oxford University.
For the past 24 years he has been helping deaf people with music and the arts and increasing awareness about disability.
He told students, staff and guests visiting Bede Academy in Blyth: “I have never heard birds or the bagpipes. But my mum played the piano and when I was five I said I wanted to learn – which was easier said than done.
“When I was 12 I decided I wanted to go to university to do a music degree and help other deaf people get involved in music.
“Durham University refused to have me because they said that deaf people could not be musicians. So I ended up at Oxford.”
Huddersfield-born Paul said he needed to read a score to know what it sounded like; he didn’t need to hear it. When he played the piano he could tell from the feel of the vibration coming through his arms as the hammer hit the string.
“I understand the tone and feel this way, but I’m not too bothered how I can do it as long as I can and can share this gift with other people.”
Paul and his signing interpreter Andy Higgins spent the day at Bede Academy working with students of all ages, giving them an insight into music and sign language.
Later he played for around 80 elderly guests who are invited to enjoy afternoon tea at the Academy served by students every term.
Bede Academy vice principal Steve Nelson said: “The students have been thoroughly inspired by Paul and his music.”
Student Oliver Baron, 13, who plays the drums and saxophone, added: “He was incredible. As a musician you cannot begin to imagine how he can play so well when he can’t hear what he is playing. It was an inspirational performance.”