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Denver Post

Songs in the key of love
Deaf pianist revives skills to play benefit for accident victim
By David Frey
Special to The Denver Post

Sunday, May 11, 2003 -

When Bobbie Meriwether plays the piano, she feels vibrations roll through its frame and recalls a "phantom voice" from long ago.
She feels the raindrops the composer Chopin sought to portray, and sways to the currents in Debussy's undersea world.
But she doesn't hear a note.

As a girl, Meriwether dreamed of being a professional musician. She had a gift, despite a fever as an infant that left her deaf in her right ear,
and robbed all but 30 percent of her hearing in her left. At 32, those dreams died when a virus stole the little hearing that remained.
Five months ago, Meriwether started dreaming again. When a friend's daughter was injured in a car accident in December,
Meriwether wanted to help. "I looked at my hands, and I realized that's what I could do," she said. "I started playing that very night."

On Saturday, Meriwether, 53, marked her return to performing classical music at a benefit for Marla Gettman, 29, who suffered a
severe head injury in December in a car accident on Berthoud Pass that left her right side paralyzed and damaged her speech.
It was a returned favor for Gettman's mother, Mary Williams, Meriwether's longtime counselor. "For 12 years, she helped me
try to deal with being a deaf person in a hearing world," Meriwether said. "I lost my identity after years of studying music. I had
so much grief inside."

Gettman returned to Glenwood Springs for the concert, her first trip home since the accident. A fourth-grade teacher in
Northglenn at the time of the accident, she has been living in Denver with her parents to be close to Craig Hospital, where
intense physical therapy has helped her walk and regain some use of her right arm. For Williams, it was a joy to see her
friend at the piano again. "I am just so excited that she's been able to get the courage to do this," she said. "I know she
has the ability."

Meriwether's father, a professional-musician-turned-grocer, saw her potential despite the hearing impairment.
When she was just 4, he introduced her to the piano. In her native Columbus, Neb., she studied under a
respected music teacher and won a scholarship to the St. Louis Institute of Music. Shortly after she graduated,
she put her musical dreams on hold. Her father had bought the Innsbruck Inn in Aspen, and she joined her family
there to oversee the lodge's housekeeping.

When she lost her hearing altogether, playing only left her brokenhearted. Then, she learned of Marla's accident,
and she began practicing again in earnest. Meriwether draws on her memory of music, what she calls a
"phantom voice" that remembers music the way an amputee may remember feeling a lost leg. She takes
inspiration from Beethoven, who composed after losing his hearing.

As a child, she said, she used to remove her hearing aid and imagine what it was like for him.
"I cried," she said. "I thought if I ever lost all my hearing, I couldn't do it, and for a while, I really couldn't do it."
In recent months she thought again about Beethoven, she said, and like him, she endeavored to hear music in
her head that she couldn't hear with her ears.

Now she has returned to the musical dreams she thought were lost with her hearing. "This is a dream come true for me,
too," said her husband, William. "Now that she's on her way, there's no point in putting it back in the closet and closing the door."
Her instrument helps, too. In a Glenwood Springs piano shop, Meriwether discovered a 9-foot Baldwin grand that lets her
feel vibrations lost on her own small upright. Owner Tim Wirth gave her the shop keys to practice day or night. When
friends drop by, practice sessions turn into recitals.

"She's become my hero," said Wirth's mother, Joan Greenfield. "And everybody that walks by, I just go out
and drag them off the street and say, 'Listen to this."'

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