Music is an art form all of us take for granted. Maria Batlle, Dominican activist/visual artist/musician, had this epiphany while at El Hogar Del Niño, the long-standing child development facility, where she hoped to host an art/music exhibit of her personal work, The Muse Seek Project.
The Muse Seek Project combines Batlle’s paintings and other visual work with her own musical compositions. She invited the children from the school, which serves underprivileged children in La Romana, to see and listen to her work, until she realized that there were hearing-impaired children at the school.
“I felt so ignorant,” she admits from her home in the Dominican Republic via Skype, “and so inconsiderate. We never think of that. I became very frustrated with the fact that there are people in the world who are unable to listen to and enjoy music.”
Batlle’s first series/exhibit was based on the poetry of Ecuadorian-born Dominican poet Miriam León. Batlle recorded León reading some of her poems and added music to the recordings. The project then combined visuals—paintings, videos, and sculptures—with these sounds.
Rather than give up, she reached out to UK non-profit group Music and the Deaf. The group’s mission, to help those with hearing disabilities enjoy music through various means, fell perfectly in line with what she hoped to accomplish. Music and the Deaf teaches children how to “feel” music via the vibrations of the instruments. Since 1988, the non-profit has provided hearing-impaired children in the UK with music lessons. The group currently has four Deaf Youth Ensembles and also teaches Signed Song, music that incorporates the use of sign language.
The program directors were immediately willing to help and, thus, a new purpose for the Muse Seek Project was established: as a “nonprofit project with cultural and educational initiatives that promote social awareness through the creation of artistic activities and digital movements.”
“This is the first music program,” she explains of her partnership with the non-profit, “specifically for persons with…well, people used to use the word ‘deaf’ but that word isn’t used as often anymore. Now they use the phrase ‘persons with special communicative needs.’ This is the first program of its type in this country.”
Her frustrations are not rooted in egotism but in the desire to share something important and necessary in her life with others. “I listen to music all the time, 24/7,” she explains, “and I always have my headphones on. Imagine, for one second, being unable to listen to music. For me, that’s frustrating and now that I know that it’s possible for people who are deaf to connect to music, it’s more like ‘oh my god, let’s do this!’ Everyone wants to be involved including Los Altos De Chavón [where she is the artist in residence] who aren’t involved with music at all!”
Batlle’s ultimate goal is to collaborate with some of the hearing-impaired children once they‘ve learned how to play their instruments. She also hopes that El Hogar Del Niño continues to collaborate with Music And The Deaf with or without the aid of the Muse Seek Project.
“Once I saw the reaction of one little boy after I’d asked him to describe what he felt when he first felt the vibrations of an instrument…it’s just indescribable!”