THE FIRST MUSIC FESTIVAL OF ITS KIND By Denise R. Marcos
Imagine living in a world where silence prevails. The sounds of ocean waves crashing and birds singing are nonexistent. Imagine that the hums and dings of everyday life are just faint sounds in the very far distance. For some, this is a reality they know all too well. For one local young woman, it is something she encounters every day.
After losing her hearing to a profound level at age three, Boerne native, Emma Faye Rudkin learned to navigate the world without being able to hear much of what was going on around her. “When doctors told my parents I was deaf and I would continue to lose whatever hearing I had left as I got older, it took an emotional toll on us all,” Emma said. “They told my family I wouldn’t be able to function at a normal level and they should enroll me into a deaf school and teach me sign language. It was a lot to take in. Whatever they decided to do would determine the course of my life.” Rudkin’s diagnoses came in a time before the Internet was easily accessible and before much research was available to the public about hearing loss. For young parents, Kathy and Kurt Rudkin, the news was devastating. What were their options? What would they do? “I spent hours looking up everything I could about hearing loss. Ninety percent of deaf/hard-of-hearing (HOH) children are born to hearing parents. Emma was the first deaf person we’ve ever known. We didn’t know what to expect, but we knew we were going to do whatever it took to ensure Emma was just as successful as any of the other kids—that she had the same opportunity to do anything and everything they could do,” Kathy said. “So, she wore hearing aids, and we enrolled her into speech therapy, which she took yearlong for 10 years. She learned to read lips, which helps her fill in the gap of the missing sounds to help her communicate. Later, in her teens, she would learn sign language to further her communication skills as her hearing loss progressed.” The Rudkins spent many hours with Emma learning the sound and shape of each letter and understanding new words. They worked intensely on reading every single day. They captioned all their TVs, made flash cards and journals of unknown words or hard to pronounce words and worked diligently with speech therapists; a practice they attribute to her success and love for books today. “We had decided as a family, if Emma couldn’t enjoy an activity due to not hearing, none of us would participate. It makes you acutely aware of how unaccommodating this world truly is for the deaf/ hard-of-hearing,” said Kathy. Growing up in a small town where no one shared the same obstacles as little Emma was difficult. The solitude of being on the outskirts of social acceptance that came from her differences proved its challenges in ways the Rudkins were not prepared to face. “Emma would come home crying nearly every day and only our family knew everything she was facing and dealing with. She wanted to be like the other kids, to just fit in—to hear like they heard and to feel included,” Kathy said. “It broke my heart in unmeasurable ways. How do you comfort your child and tell her that may never be something she can have? As a parent, you only want the best for your kid. Were we doing all we could to help her? I stayed strong for my family during the day, but the nights were, many times, unbearable.” As Emma grew older, the silence took its toll. Despite her close relationship with her family and her childhood friends, Emma grew lonely. For her, trying to just hear and function in a hearing world was becoming increasingly difficult. She entered a state of darkness and anger toward God. Depression began to set in and she was becoming debilitated by her differences. “I became angry, depressed and horribly insecure. I knew I needed to change, for this was a life not worth living,” Emma said. “Although I grew up in a Christian home and went to Christian school, I had the head
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knowledge but not the heart knowledge of who God was. I associated so much of my pain with a God who had not answered my prayers to make me hear. So, in desperation, I signed myself up for a local Christian camp, and when I returned, something clicked that completely transformed me. For the first time, I felt God wasn’t ignoring me or punishing me by making me deaf. He was preparing me for something much bigger—something that would help me change the lives of others through my own deafness. I wanted to start a nonprofit for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, but I knew, to be successful, I needed a platform to raise awareness about it.” Her transformation led her to plan for her future. So, in 2010, Emma took her passion for music, something she’s always loved, to a new level. She intensely studied piano, music theory, guitar, ukulele, kick drum and singing in preparation to compete for a title in the Miss America circuit. In 2015, and then again in 2017, Emma would walk away with the title of Miss San Antonio. Aid the Silent, her nonprofit, was founded in 2015. Music was Emma’s door to something big. “Although I am unable to experience music in all its fullness, I know there are lyrics moving melodically with the song and beautiful sounds created with instruments and voices that I will never hear. Yet, music is not something only to be heard, it is something to be felt with the entire body and to be experienced with all the senses,” Emma said. This passion and desire of inclusion for the entire deaf and hard-of-hearing community, led the Aid the Silent team to pursue a dream of bringing the deaf community a sensory experience unlike any other. So, this spring, on May 20, 2017, Aid the Silent will host an inaugural Good Vibrations Music & Arts Festival (GVMAF) at the 1850 Settlement in San Antonio, Texas from 4pm to midnight, benefiting the nonprofit and in recognition of the deaf/HOH community. Open to the entire public, hearing and non-hearing alike, this concert will be fun for the whole family. Attendees can shop artisan’s booths, partake in crafts and games, delight in good grub from area food trucks and enjoy eight hours of live music, featuring singer-songwriters: Ben Rector, Matt Wertz, Penny & Sparrow, Ryan Proudfoot, Brad Blackburn and Aid the Silent Founder, Emma Faye Rudkin. To accommodate the deaf/HOH patrons, the festival will include live captioning, sign language interpretation, T-coiling, a looping technology that allows hearing aid wearers to tune into the music directly, transformative wearable audio technology that converts sound into high fidelity vibrations, and a synchronized LED dance floor that will harmonize to the beats of the music. To the average hearing person this will look like any other concert; to the deaf/HOH person it will be a full out sensory experience. “Music was something I’ve always loved. I want others who are deaf and hard-of-hearing to experience this passion in a way unknown—to feel it with their entire body. With the support of our sponsors and the community, we can bring this dream to life,” Emma said. The goal of GVMAF is to be a place where festivalgoers (hearing and nonhearing), can enjoy, side-by-side, a full music experience. A place where all can experience a completely interactive, sensory-filled concert and walk away with knowledge about hearing loss. This event will be a fundraiser for Aid the Silent’s four branches: Deaf Resources, Deaf Education, Deaf Ministry and Deaf Research. The festival