Tuesday, March 17, 2015


If a blind and deaf woman can learn to sing—just think what you can do!

Fourteen-year-old Helen Keller—deaf and blind but very smart—comes to 1894 New York with her trusted teacher Annie Sullivan so Helen can take singing lessons to improve her speaking. Helen battles not only her physical problems but also her own wavering confidence and the frustrating difficulty of creating meaningful sounds. Through lessons and visits to the symphony and a dog show, Helen explores the “feel” of sounds; and after a trip to the inspiring Statue of Liberty, embraces a courage and new confidence that the freedom to sing is enough.   

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and those people who sing off key will sound like angels. At age 14, Helen Keller and her trusted teacher, Annie Sullivan, 28, come to bustling New York City in 1894 so Helen can take singing lessons in order to talk better. Although deaf and blind, Helen is not timid enough to give up. She starts classes in lip-reading, math, English literature, U.S. history, and keeps a diary. Intimidated by singing lessons, Helen embraces the piano and physically senses the music. Recognizing the beauty others experience through music, she wants that, too.

Helen’s progress is slow. She tries to keep her hand on her professor’s throat or on the piano but becomes confused easily. She is devastated that she must re-learn breathing. Helen longs to sound beautiful and make everyone stop and listen. She imagines beautiful birds singing, but her own singing is forced, and her voice sounds bitter. She is embarrassed and not sure she wants to continue the lessons.

Meanwhile, Annie learns techniques from the school’s professors that may help her better teach Helen. Isolated by her physical impairments, Helen feels increasingly alone in her journey not only to speak, but also to sing. She improves a little in lip-reading but still cannot read rapid speech. She wants so much to persevere and succeed, if only she could talk and sing like other people.

Helen attends the symphony where she senses the magnificent music through her feet. At a dog show, the barking feels to a delighted Helen like a dog-orchestra. She enjoys the rhythm of the piano and asks for private lessons, hoping it will help her singing. She tries to hum the tones that she feels coming from the piano but is again frustrated by the barriers as she imagines writing wonderful hymns on the piano.

A visit to the Statue of Liberty inspires in Helen a renewed will to sing and talk more clearly. Though she wants others to think she sings beautifully, she now embraces the freedom to sing whether or not other people approve. At her next lesson, Helen imagines a beautiful, soaring voice . . . hers. She is finally free from judgment.

[Production Note: The nature of Helen’s journey can be told through variations in the sounds the audience hears: everything as usual; no sound when they see what Helen feels; then hear how she imagines the vibrations would sound. A palette of period-sepia goldens and browns would symbolize Helen’s blindness, while accents of blue would signal her varying emotions.]

Copyright 2022 Jennifer Waters

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