It’s common knowledge that Beethoven, composer of some of history’s most famous music, couldn’t hear his masterpieces.
Nor can Ed Chevy, Bob Hiltermann or Steve Longo hear the lively songs they play on stage as Beethoven’s Nightmare. The rock band, whose three members are deaf, plays Oct. 20 in Tempe. Two concerts will include original music and covers of songs by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones.
Queen Creek’s Robb Hassell has known the band for years. His wife is art director for Beethoven’s Nightmare. Hassel says its concerts are like any other rock show — mostly.
“It’s heavier on the bass, just for the vibration, so the people in the audience can feel the vibration,” he says.
There are also a handful of American Sign Language interpreters on stage. But “instead of just standing there signing, they’re doing a theatrical type of signing,” says Hassell. “They incorporate dance and (panto)mime, so just watching them is a show in itself.”
As students in the 1970s at Gallaudet University — the nation’s landmark school for deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C. — Chevy, Hiltermann and Longo found themselves united by a love for music.
It was an art form one of them had never heard. Guitarist Longo was born deaf.
“My two brothers are musicians, so music has always been part of my life,” wrote Longo, now a system administrator for California’s Lawrence Livermore National Lab, in an email to the Tribune.
As a teen, he was crazy about The Beatles and saw the supergroup live in 1966.
Chevy, who was attracted as a child to beats coming off records on his dad’s phonograph, also had an unforgettable rock ’n’ roll experience.
“When I first saw The Who live at a rock concert, I decided to become a rock star,” writes Chevy, the band’s bass player and singer, whose day job is teaching ASL, music and storytelling in Honolulu.
Hiltermann, who lost his hearing due to spinal meningitis, was also exposed to music as a youngster, growing up in a large family that appreciated classical music and played instruments. A generous neighbor with a little-used drum set let him play the instrument after school.
Yet, Hiltermann writes in an e-mail interview with the paper, he was told by his family and teachers that he would never learn or understand music because of his deafness.
“Somehow, I proved them wrong. Music is for everyone, not just for the hearing,” he writes.
Tempe audiences will get a sense of that when the band goes on stage.
“They will see what we can do as deaf musicians. They will hear our original songs written by (the) talented Ed Chevy. They will feel our music the way we feel (it),” writes Hiltermann, a teacher and actor in Los Angeles in his time away from the band.
In their Gallaudet days, the trio played fraternity and graduation parties and local clubs. After college, they eventually started going by the name Beethoven’s Nightmare.
“(Beethoven’s) worst nightmare is being deaf, and we three are triple that, as we are a badass rock band,” writes Hiltermann.
How someone who cannot hear music can love it — much less play it — can be difficult for the hearing to comprehend.
Longo writes that it “takes talent and hard work,” and that music and its inherent creativity make him feel complete.
Hiltermann puts it this way: “Music is from within. Everyone has rhythms inside their bodies, and music plays in your mind. It’s a God-given gift for everyone, deaf or hearing.”
The concerts are fundraisers for the Arizona Deaf Youth Ambassadorship Program and the Arizona Deaf Senior Citizens Coalition’s efforts to preserve Tempe’s Apache ASL Trails deaf senior living facility. Miss Deaf Arizona, Sophia Stone, will make an appearance.
If you go
What: Beethoven’s Nightmare, a band of deaf musicians who formed at Gallaudet University, performs an all-ages rock show with artfully clad American Sign Language interpreters who dance and perform pantomime.
When: 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20
Where: Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Cost: $25, proceeds benefit AZ Deaf Youth Ambassadorship Program
and Apache ASL Trails
Information: (480) 350-2822 or TCA.ticketforce.com/