Deaf music inspires all

By Alexandra Kukulka

The music starts, the crowd cheers and the front man begins to sing. For a musician, these sounds are the sign of a successful concert. However, when deaf musician Sean Forbes hits the stage, his experience is

much different.

Forbes, 30, created the Deaf Professional Arts Network in 2005 to bridge the gap between the deaf population and the music industry. Through this nonprofit organization, Forbes tours the U.S. and is also delivers motivational speeches.

He is currently producing and writing music with Mark Levin, 27, a 2008 arts, entertainment and media management alumnus and senior music major Jake Bass, 22.

Forbes learned the drums at age 5 and picked up the guitar by age 10. According to him, he began his professional career and spreading his message almost five years ago when he created D-PAN.

“I am trying to show the world how deaf people experience music,” Forbes said. “Deaf people can do whatever [they] want. The only thing [they] can’t do is hear.”

He said Stevie Wonder inspires him because Wonder showed the world how the blind interpret music. Forbes said he wants to be able to do the same for the deaf.

In order to achieve his goals, Forbes reached out to other musicians, including Bass, who in 2005 was working in his family’s record studio.

Forbes said even though Bass was young at the time, he had considerable musical talent. According to Bass, the two of them “just clicked.”

“The fact that he was deaf was really never a topic that we felt we had to discuss, as far as creating music,” Bass said. “We just wanted to make art and make great music.”

Bass plays keyboard and guitar during performances, and offstage he is Forbes’ producer and co-writer. The first song they collaborated on is Forbes’ most popular track, “I’m Deaf.”

According to Bass, the biggest challenge working with Forbes is guaranteeing effective communication. He said he ensures that Forbes is aware of everything happening because he cannot rely on Forbes’ hearing.

“I always make it a conscious effort to let him know, musically, everything that I am doing so that he is aware because it is just as much his project as it is mine,” Bass said.

Another challenge Forbes and his group face is discrimination, said Levin, also a deaf musician. He added that he realizes fewer people made music during the 2008 music business decline, but it is still difficult to break into the industry.

He said he believes that his and Forbes’ “disabilities” make it a greater challenge, but they are working together to become successful.

Their hard work seems to be paying off, as they are touring throughout the U.S. and have written more than 50 songs together. Forbes is also releasing a CD/DVD June 1.

Levin is currently Forbes’ guitarist, video production assistant, D-PAN’s tour manager and energizes concert audiences as a “hype man” on stage.

“Working with him, I knew it was like a power in numbers thing,” Levin said. “Sean and I both shared the same vision of accessibility, passion and desire to want to be in the industry.”

According to Levin, Forbes’ music opens the eyes of all who listen to it because of the unique demographic he reaches, including people who both can and cannot hear. While there are only a few deaf musicians in today’s industry, none are as successful as Forbes, Levin said.

He said the most rewarding part of performing with Forbes is when people who can hear become fans of his music because they realize he is a talented musician and producer.

“We are changing [people’s] mindsets,” Levin said. “We are teaching them not to look at somebody and go, ‘Oh, hey, they have a disability. They [won’t] be able to do that.’ We are breaking stereotypes.”

To listen to Sean Forbes’ music, visit