WASHINGTON – The Sounds of the Southwest Singers, a community choir from Glendale, stood perched on the risers at the front of the temple-like George Washington Masonic National Memorial, waiting to begin a program of patriotic and gospel tunes.
As the piano accompanist began quietly playing, choir director Matt Deller strolled to the conductor’s stand, murmured a few words to his singers, then raised his hands to begin their portion of the concert.
It could have been any of the conductors who were leading any of the bands performing at Sunday’s Memorial Day concert. But unlike any of the other conductors, Deller is wearing a hearing aid. In each ear.
The choir director is deaf.
“Matt as our director, you realize how unique and special he is,” said Glendale resident Nancy Butler, one of the 150 voices in the choir. “He gets us to perform and sing our very best.”
Deller is 90 percent deaf, something his parents discovered while he was young.
But Deller, who began playing piano at age 5, said he can hear musical tones. He developed an ear for music and that ability to play songs by ear. He has managed to turn what others would call a disability into a unique ability.
“I believe a lot of their passion comes from knowing their director is hearing impaired,” Deller said of his singers. “When they sing, they sing with enunciation. They sing with expression.”
Despite his hearing impairment, Deller said he has the gift of perfect pitch.
“We do not have to carry a pitch pipe around, you just sing a D, ‘deeee,'” he said, singing the note as he spoke it, and, “I hear and know the first note of the song.”
Deller has directed the Sounds of the Southwest Singers for the past six years after he and his wife, Leann, co-founded it in 2011 as a way to give back to their community. They have performed overseas and around the country, including last weekend’s stop in the Washington area for concerts at the Masonic memorial, churches and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Members of the choir said its mission is to give audiences a way to connect to the music.
The choir “is a way for me to connect to other people and bring happiness to other people,” Butler said. “While the people and audience brings happiness to us.”
Butler says Deller is a large part of the reason for that happiness. Deller returns the compliment.
“I am very, very proud to be a part of the Sounds of the Southwest Singers, along with my wife, Leann,” he said. “We are leading this group to great things.”
-Cronkite News video by Alex Valdez.