Thursday, August 14, 2003

Guitarist Steve Longo, left, drummer Bob Hiltermann and bassist Ed Chevy make up Beethoven's Nightmare.

Rocking with
Beethoven’s Nightmare

Being deaf doesn't mean these
musicians can't carry a tune

Beethoven's Nightmare

Appearing at the Live It Up Live, Hawaii benefit concert for artists with disabilities.

In concert: 5 to 10 p.m. tomorrow

Place: Hard Rock Cafe

Tickets: $25 with heavy pupus; available at the cafe, Volcano Joe's, Cheapo Music on University Avenue, Hawaii Service on Deafness (926-4763), VSAarts of Hawaii-Pacific (945-1438), UH-Manoa Center on Disability Studies, ITT-Pearl Harbor ticket outlet at Navy Exchange or by phone, 946-7300.

Call: 945-1438

Also: Sixth Hawaii International Sign Language Festival, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, McCoy Pavilion, Ala Moana Park. Free. will stream the concert live.

There are other ways to "hear" music.

Take the case of Ed Chevy, Steve Longo and Bob Hiltemann. These three musicians fortuitously met about 25 years ago -- first Chevy and Longo in Berkeley, then Hiltemann at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. -- in the only way possible without an eye-to-eye encounter.

While walking down a college dorm corridor, they each felt music being played -- whether it was the steady strum of an electric guitar or the pulse emanating from a drum kit -- by running their hands along the wall. Following the vibrations, they were eager to find each other and connect with a rare kindred soul.

And it just didn't matter that they were deaf. All three had already experienced their musical epiphanies when they were teenagers, while being raised by both hearing and deaf parents, as well as siblings who also played music.

Chevy had felt firsthand the fury of The Who, Longo found himself in the screaming throng at a Beatles concert, and Hiltemann was energized by the music of B.B. King and his band.

As the three related their memories during some downtime while rehearsing at Hawaii Public Radio's Atherton Performing Arts Studio Tuesday, communicating in sign language and with their voices, it was obvious that their enthusiasm for the rock 'n' roll they create as Beethoven's Nightmare remains as high as when they first got together a quarter of a century ago.

After a successful debut here in February, the band returns to the Hard Rock Cafe tomorrow in what the trio hopes will be the first step in being a crossover, rather than novelty act, a status that comes with being a group of deaf musicians. (All wear hearing aids to help amplify the little sense of hearing they do have.)

Like any other band, members communicated with each other during rehearsal through visual cues. Instead of expecting just a safe and static sound, Beethoven's Nightmare astutely and aggressively shift tempos and harmonic dynamics in each of their original instrumentals.

(Steve Laracuente, vice-principal of the Hawaii Center for Deaf and the Blind, will be the band's guest singer and guitarist tomorrow night.)

WHEN NOT performing, Hiltemann is an actor in Los Angeles, Longo lives in the Bay Area and Chevy (in his daily guise as Ed Corey) is an Ewa Beach resident and instructor of sign language at Kapiolani Community College. Chevy travels to California twice a year to get together with Hiltemann and Longo to rehearse and learn the new music he's written.

"It's all about expanding our signature sound," Longo said. "What we play now is 75 to 80 percent new."

And that recent material is being recorded today at the Atherton studio for a promotional CD to help launch the band's professional career. The recording session and expenses are being paid by concert promoters Hawaii Public Radio, Hawaii Services on Deafness and VSAarts of Hawaii-Pacific. The CD and concert launches VSAarts' "Artists Unlimited Project" that promotes opportunities for artists with disabilities in the areas of music, dance, theater and the visual arts.

The benefit concert is part of a national development project, "Artists Mean Business." Many promising and inspirational local artists of all performance styles are being showcased along with Beethoven's Nightmare tomorrow night.

THE TRIO feel they have reached a pivotal moment as deaf culture expands into the mainstream. When they started, they had to fight the misconception that being deaf meant they couldn't play music.

And they take their inspiration from the classical composer that they take their name from. "When Beethoven went deaf at the age of 35," Chevy said, "he was already established as a composer. He was told he couldn't keep composing, but he did.

"Elvis was told 'you can't do it' (as Chevy gyrates his hips), but he did.' " Laracuente echoes Chevy with one simple word: "Bullshit."

"Not only do we want people to feel our music," Chevy continued, "but we want to give them the visual element as well. When people go to concerts, they want to be entertained, so we sometimes include special guests who perform with us who can sing, do comedy, storytelling or mime."

"With our next project we want to include film projection with words," Longo said.

"The whole idea behind this movement of encouraging artists with disabilities is to expand their opportunities," Chevy said. "It's what's behind the notion that the blind can do anything but see and the deaf can do anything but hear, and so on."

"Many people ask us why we use Beethoven's name," Hiltemann said. "We have respect for the guy and carry his legacy and his name. And we do represent his worst nightmare -- he became an angry and neurotic man who died young and we continue his nightmare by being both deaf and playing rock 'n' roll!"

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