Deaf musician concert homecoming of sorts | AspenTimes.com

Deaf musician concert homecoming of sorts

Stewart Oksenhorn

When Glenwood Springs resident Roberta Meriwether performs a piano recital this weekend, it is bound to be an emotional experience. For one thing, the concert – set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the New Space Theatre on Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus – should be just like starting over for Meriwether. The 53-year-old pianist, who moved with her family to Aspen in the mid-1960s, hasn’t played a large public concert in some 15 years, having confined her performances to small house recitals.Then there is the motivation for Meriwether’s coming out of retirement from concertizing.After Glenwood Springer Marla Williams Gettman suffered severe injuries in an auto accident this past December, Meriwether thought about what she could do to help. Williams’ mother Mary, a family counselor in Glenwood, had worked with Meriwether for years, helping Meriwether battle emotional troubles and encouraging her in her musical pursuits. “Bobbi said, ‘This is my cue. It’s time for me to get busy,'” said William Meriwether, her husband and manager, about the decision to perform a benefit concert for Gettman. Raising the emotional ante is the crowd expected to fill the hall. Joining family members and friends – from both the Williams and Meriwether sides – will be Gettman herself, making her first public appearance since the accident.The applause is likely to be enormous, but Meriwether, who is deaf, won’t hear any of it. Meriwether – whose parents, the Taylors, owned Aspen’s Innsbruck Inn from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s – lost most of her hearing at six months because of an untreated virus. From infancy until she was 30, she had no hearing in one ear, and only 30 percent hearing in the other. Then, at age 30, another virus took what hearing Meriwether still had. The early hearing loss didn’t prevent Meriwether from pursuing music. Pushed by her father Robert, who had been a reed player with his own band, Meriwether started studying piano at 4. “He was looking for a substitute musician. He chose her and made her a pianist,” said William Meriwether, a former folk singer and guitarist who once performed solo at the Hollywood Bowl, backed by the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. Meriwether went on to study at the St. Louis Music Institute. She made up for her hearing loss by becoming an expert music reader. “She can teach herself music she has never heard,” William said. William said his wife hasn’t viewed her lack of hearing as a handicap. “She is far beyond that,” he said. “She knows she’s good.”In fact, Meriwether has used her disability to her advantage. This weekend’s concert will feature, in addition to works by Scarlatti, Mozart, Schubert and Chopin, Debussy’s “Sunken Cathedral,” a piece that is rarely performed due to the difficulty of reading the music.”It’s played by so few pianists because it’s just so hard to read,” said William. “The reading of the music is so bizarre. It’s very extreme – extreme bass notes, extreme treble notes. Those are unfamiliar notes.”Meriwether has immersed herself in rehearsal since deciding to return to the concert stage. She has been practicing up to eight hours a day on the 9-foot grand piano she will perform on. William expects her return to the stage to be a memorable experience. “It blows you away,” he said. “She’s playing the music beautifully – and she’s never heard it. It’s a freak show, almost.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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