Tiny Treasures

Helen Keller on Listening to Beethoven

Letters of Note is by far, and easily one of the most gratifying spaces on the internet. As I searched the archives, I stumbled across a letter by Hellen Keller to the New York Symphony Orchestra after their performance of Beethoven’s 9th at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Though half deaf and blind, Hellen Keller describes how she heard and experienced the music.

I put my hand on the receiver and see if I could get any of the vibrations. [someone] unscrewed the cap, and I lightly touched the sensitive diaphragm. What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibrations, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music! The intertwined and intermingling vibrations from different instruments enchanted me. I could actually distinguish the cornets, the roll of the drums, deep-toned violas and violins singing in exquisite unison. How the lovely speech of the violins flowed and plowed over the deepest tones of the other instruments! When the human voice leaped up trilling from the surge of harmony, I recognized them instantly as voices. I felt the chorus grow more exultant, more ecstatic, upcurving swift and flame-like, until my heart almost stood still. The women’s voices seemed an embodiment of all the angelic voices rushing in a harmonious flood of beautiful and inspiring sound. The great chorus throbbed against my fingers with poignant pause and flow … Of course, this was not “hearing” but I do know that the tones and harmonies conveyed to me moods of great beauty and majesty. I also sensed, or thought I did, the tender sounds of nature that sing into my hand—swaying reeds and winds and the murmur of streams. I have never been so enraptured before by a multitude of tone-vibrations.


Our physical abilities are perhaps an impediment only so much as we let them be. Our will, therefore, has the possibility to surpass any such prohibitor.

Featured image: Penn State / Flickr CC


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