Evelyn Glennie, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1965, is the world's foremost, and first full-time, solo percussionist. The recipient of enormous media attention due to her deafness, Glennie is likewise noteworthy for the variety of her repertoire and recording projects. She lost her hearing at the age of 12 and began to study timpani at that time, working extensively with her teacher to learn to sense percussion vibrations. Glennie studied percussion and timpani, though she also studied piano as a secondary focus from 1982, when she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Glennie became the first student ever to give a percussion recital or perform a percussion concerto at the RAM. Glennie made her professional debut in 1985, and it did not take long for her musical adventurousness to show itself. In addition to performing with classical ensembles, she commissioned new works (more than 130 works by 2008), single-handedly expanding the repertoire of works for solo percussion. Glennie has had many works written for her by major composers, including James MacMillan (the percussion concerto Veni, veni Emmanuel), Michael Daugherty (UFO), Yi Chen (Percussion Concerto), Thea Musgrave (Journey Through a Japanese Landscape), and many others. Among her recordings is the 2006 Naxos CD of Aurolucent Circles (Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra) and other works by Margaret Brouwer. An energetic concertizer, she is typically on the road for over 100 evenings a year, and has made several dozen recordings.
Glennie crosses musical boundaries with unusual ease. In addition to performances with most of the major European and American classical orchestras, she has worked with the Kodo Japanese drummers, the experimental Icelandic pop vocalist Björk, Javanese gamelan ensembles, Brazilian samba bands, and other musicians on five continents. Her album Shadow Behind the Iron Sun, released in 2000, fulfilled Glennie's long-held desire to join forces with a pop producer, in this case the veteran American studio wizard Michael Brauer. The disc showcased the large collection of percussion instruments Glennie has mastered (she has well over 1,300 instruments in her personal collection), including homemade instruments, most notably a set of cut and tuned car exhaust pipes, as well as sounds from around the world.
A composer herself, Glennie has written music for film and television in collaboration with the composer and web designer Greg Malcangi. She also plays the Great Highland bagpipes. Her numerous awards include "Scotswoman of the Decade," a Grammy award for her 1989 recording of Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, and her designation as Officer of the British Empire at the age of 27, an honor very rarely given to anyone under 50. She was upgraded in 2007 to Dame Commander (DBE).
Glennie does not mention her deafness in press materials, and she has been known to react with exasperation when asked about it to the exclusion of musical matters. She is profoundly deaf, meaning that while she cannot understand speech, she can hear some sound. What she hears is augmented, as it is for everyone else, by her sense of touch. The sensation of feeling vibrations is experienced by Glennie at various frequencies and in various parts of her body. She tends to feel low sounds in her legs and feet, and high ones on her face, neck, and chest. Glennie contends that hearing is a form of touch, and that everyone, whether "deaf" or not, processes sound in an individual way. Glennie's autobiography, Good Vibrations, appeared in 1990.