Dyslexia and Me: A is for Awareness and Ability

I really hope that this week I have helped to raise some awareness on the topics of dyslexia and scotopic sensitivity syndrome. I think I have talked a lot about the struggles I’ve had and how getting the right support has helped me to achieve my academic goals in life (so far). I’ve tried to share some funny stories of when things go wrong with my misinterpretations, misunderstandings and that other thing… Oh yeah, my short-term memory issues. I’ve also raised an issue that even I wasn’t 100% sure was related to dyslexia, but thought it was something that needed to be discussed as part of my journey. I wanted to show that dyslexia is more than just reading and writing.

One thing I haven’t really looked at is the positive sides of dyslexia. And there are many of those too! We need to raise the negative issues to get the support needed and so that people understand where dyslexics are coming from. I’m not trying to chance my luck when I ask for extra-time, I need that time to avoid migraines and to get what I have rattling in my head down onto paper before it disappears off into space! Dyslexia may throw up some barriers that need to be broken down, but it open up others that people without dyslexia perhaps find more difficult. 

My strength is related to music. I could hear a song and play it on an instrument pretty quickly. It may not have been note perfect, but it was the basics that could be developed into something more. Keyboard and piano, violin, recorder, flute and whistles, guitar and bass, bodhrán and drumkit, clarsach and accordion, all instruments I have had a try at playing at one point over the years. All of which I’ve been able to play a tune from or play along to music with. Some with lessons, most without and some on a first attempt. I don’t have a keen ear for accents or words, but I do for sound and notes.

I have done all sorts of things in music too. I’ve written my own music, I’ve played and sang in school concerts, I’ve been in two bands, performed in front of people both as a solo musician/vocalist and with others, I’ve promoted for street teams, written blogs, worked in a music shop and been on student radio co-hosting a music show. When I have spare money it goes toward going to see live music at local gigs, concerts and festivals or merchandise in the form of CDs, DVDs, tshirts, hoodies, patches, pins, caps and even some underwear! Ooo-err misses!

Music for me isn’t just a tune on the radio. It’s an experience. It can lift me up, it can pull me down, it can support me, it can take me on a story. There are albums that the music makes me very emotional. I love progressive rock and metal and the albums these artists conceptualise. I love going on that journey! Storytelling through music. I don’t need to watch it as a film, I don’t need the visual prompts. I don’t even need to hear lyrics see the story in my head, a great example being Camel’s concept album ‘The Snow Goose’.

For me, lyrics are secondary. I see vocals as another instrument like a guitar. Perhaps this is partly to do with my audio processing disorder. I do look up lyrics of many artists, but it’s really not the first thing I listen for. Actually, some lyrics end up putting me off artists when I realise what it is they’re actually singing (one band’s rant about animal rights issues made me very uncomfortable, even though I agreed with the jist of what they were saying as a veggie for half my lifetime through my own personal choice).

I have seen a lot of bands live. A LOT!!! I am often asked for a favourite band I’ve seen and I find it near impossible to pick one. However, I think the band I was absolutely stunned by live was Danish band, Mew. Now what I love about Mew are the vocal harmonies they use. In fact, vocal harmonies have always been a love of mine (see Gentle Giant’s track ‘Knots’ for another example of what I mean). I was sure there would be no way that Mew would manage to pull off the sound they have on record. I was sure that it would be recordings that just made it sound synthetic and lose the warmness of their sound. I was so wrong! I was so emotional by just how beautiful their sound was and how they made it sound perfect! Even now I am welling up thinking about just how perfect they were.

Yeah! Just imagine that live!!!! Perfection!

I love my progressive music and the stories they tell, but I also love metal. You can’t understand the lyrics? I don’t understand the lyrics of normal pop artists in the charts most of the time! It makes no difference to me, the vocals are an instrument. The sounds that the words make are just like the finger tapping or note bending or cymbal crashes. They add to the sound, the feeling, the texture. I also love music in different languages. I grew up listening to Celtic folk music listening to Irish and Scottish Gaelic words. Now I listen to bands from all over the world. I don’t speak a word of Dutch, but one of my favourite bands (another who I’ve seen that blew me away) is folk metal band Heidevolk. They use fantastic vocals too (not screaming stuff, so if you don’t like screaming stuff, this one is safe for you).

I have looked up the lyrics and there are a few words I could just about translate myself into English just by my own ear for Indo-European languages being an English speaker. But why should the language of a song discourage someone from listening to it? I know people love to sing along, but I sing along to ‘Saksenland’… Ok just the one word as I dance about like an idiot to the music. I don’t feel that I have that barrier in front of me when I listen to music from the Netherlands, Russia, Germany, Finland, Spain, Italy, Japanese, Chinese… Why should I miss out on hearing fantastic music just because I don’t understand the language?

And really, what is wrong with growling lyrics? It doesn’t mean that the music is any less beautiful or moving than a piece of music with clean vocals or a classical piece with no vocals at all. My final piece of music that moves me deep inside is by a beautiful French band called Alcest. Another band who I have seen live and are amongst my top live bands. Alcest for me are like a big warm blanket of sound that I can listen to and feel comfortable and secure. I listen to them when I’m awake, I listen to them when I’m falling asleep and they’re like a security blanket of sound.

For me, music has a language all to itself that I can understand. I can relate to it. It’s my security blanket. It makes me emotional in a happy way where I jump around dancing euphorically, it can help me sleep when I feel under the weather, and it can reduce me to tears of sorrow (see Opeth’s ‘Still Life’ album. One that is beautiful in itself but a concept album that makes it even more meaningful). I don’t hear the words like most people, I have audio processing problems with words, which allows me to listen to music in a different way. I listen to the vocals and the way the words are sang, the clicks of the tongue, the breathing, the growling and snarling, and it sounds just like the sliding notes on a guitar, the picking of certain strings, the strumming of chords. I don’t hear the languages, I don’t need to know French or Dutch or Finnish or Gaelic! I can feel the meaning and emotion without knowing the words. I do prefer music with vocals to instrumental music. It’s not the wanting to sing along element that I feel is missing though, it’s the instrument of the human voice. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy instrumental music (Camel’s ‘Snow Goose’ is one example, I also adore Holst’s ‘Planets’ and other classical composers).

Music is my ‘superpower’ that I was given in the dyslexia package, but there are many different abilities in the dyslexia box (that sounded very weird to me too… Just go with it…). Richard Branson is an outstanding entrepreneur, Whoopi Goldberg is a brilliant and funny actress, Albert Einstein was a phenomenal scientist, Steven Spielberg is an amazing director. Dyslexia is not a ‘one size fits all’. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. It’s being able to push forward our abilities to the forefront that is important and getting the right help where we struggle.

Would I give up my dyslexia? Hell no! And lose my superpowers? I’d rather not thank you very much! I just have to be aware of my kryptonite and either find away around it or a way to deal with it in a more manageable way!

This post is part of a series trying to help me to raise money for Dyslexia Action. You can donate as little as £1! To find out more, head over to: https://www.justgiving.com/DyslexiaAndMe

Posted on September 6, 2014, in Awareness, Personal Experience and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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