Like most heavy metal rock bands, Beethoven’s Nightmare finds its inspiration from legendary rock bands such as Black Sabbath, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But Beethoven’s Nightmare does have one distinct difference from all other heavy metal bands. It’s the world’s only all-deaf rock band.
The Nightmare, made up of guitarist Steve Longo, drummer Bob Hiltermann, and bassist and vocalist Ed Chevy, played Tuesday night at Kansas State’s Forum Hall.
Longo, Hiltermann, and Chevy met 30 years ago at Gallaudet University, the world leader in liberal education and career development for deaf or hard of hearing students, in Washington, D.C.
“I felt vibration in the hall in the dormitory,” Hiltermann said about the band’s first meeting. “He (Longo) was playing guitar and making really loud sounds. I have never seen a deaf guitarist in my life.” Hiltermann said he just stood and watched in amazement.
The trio learned to play through the vibrations of the music. A speaker sits behind Hiltermann during the concert to keep him on beat.
All three musicians were discouraged at an early age from playing any music.
“I wanted to play the drums, but my family said ‘no, you’re deaf, it’s not worth the money’,” Hiltermann said. A neighbor later moved in with a drum set. Hiltermann would head over to the neighbor’s house and worked on his skill for two years.
Longo became interested in music after watching The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show. His family bought him a $5 guitar from the flea market. Once he figured out how to tune it, Longo began strumming away.
Chevy picked up the bass much later in life, learning to play from Longo.
“I’m not a skilled bass player, but I’m good enough,” Chevy said through a sign language translator. He recently upgraded from a four-string bass to a five-string bass.
During the band’s nearly 50-minute set, Chevy strutted across the stage, playing to the audience. The band relies heavily on the visual elements of their show. While Chevy did some singing, a majority of the lyrics were performed through signing by dancers Joshua Lamont and Juanita Chase. They bounced up and down the stage doing an interpretive dance to the rhythm of the band’s music.
Audience members did not clap during the entire performance. Instead, event-goers yelled and shook their hands as a way to show their appreciation.
For nearly 30 years, Beethoven’s Nightmare has had one goal.
“We want to give deaf people an appreciation of music,” Chevy said. “I think we are very slowly starting to change that. The interpreters help that because they see that music and then they feel the music.”
Hiltermann added that fans have come up to the band after their performance and told them that their attitude toward music has changed for the better.
Hiltermann said the group writes lyrics that are relevant to the deaf culture.
“We are writing about deaf issues,” he said.