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Deaf Composer

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"Deafness doesn't prevent composers hearing music. It prevents them hearing distractions."

The Deaf Composer trope refers to any creator who enjoys composing, cooking, painting, singing, sculpting, or some other creative activity, yet they can never experience it first-hand because they suffer from a loss of one (or more) of the senses most closely tied with their art or have a unique biology that won't allow them to experience their creations. This usually results in or from Sense Loss Sadness, though it may just be that the Deaf Composer has found a way to compensate à la Disability Superpowers or found a workaround that enables them to keep creating despite their disability. They may pursue this passion either out of a love of it or as a means to compensate for their disability.

While this can be Played for Laughs with the Deaf Composer character who is a cook also being a Lethal Chef (or just amazingly bad for non-cooking arts), it can just as easily be Played for Drama with the character struggling heroically with their Tragic Dream. Interestingly, they may not necessarily be bad at cooking, painting, etc., making quite competent creations. However, these may suffer from being by-the-numbers and uncreative due to the lack of all required senses, while other times it's that very same drawback that gives them such a unique and passionate perspective they blow rivals out of the water.

This trope is named in honor of Ludwig van Beethoven, who in the later years of his life continued to compose despite becoming mostly deaf (he didn't start deaf, however). Being an alien spy probably helped. He was able to compose while being deaf because he was such a brilliant musician that he could "hear" his symphonies' hundred-plus instruments in his imagination.

Subtrope of Ironically Disabled Artist, which is for all cases where a disability contrasts the method of creating art (not just in a way that involves an absence of senses). Contrast Creative Sterility, where a character is unable to create art (or procreate) not because they lack the corresponding senses but out of a lack of creative spark. Compare Blind Musician, for visually impaired music artists. Opposite of Dream-Crushing Handicap, where it becomes physically impossible to follow the dream.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • In Classi9, Beethoven lost his hearing very early in his life. Like his real-life counterpart, it doesn't stop him from composing, but he does appreciate help to write his music. He also comments that operas are the only type of musical works he can still enjoy, as they consist of music and plays.
  • Played with in Medaka Box as an android, who understandably has no taste buds, has won a cooking contest.
  • In XXX Holic, Watanuki turns out to be unable to remember the taste of his food.

     Comic Books 
  • Alicia Masters in Fantastic Four is a blind sculptress. She creates amazingly detailed and more impressively accurate sculptures of people the FF have met just by hearing them described.
  • Daredevil: Maya Lopez, aka Echo, is a deaf musician and actress, skills made possible by her adoptive muscle memory, similar to Taskmaster or Finesse.

     Fan Works 

  • Poked fun at in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, in the scene where they pick up Beethoven; they carry him off the piano mid-song, and he continues playing (that is to say, he mimes that he's still playing the piano).
  • Immortal Beloved: This Beethoven biopic shows some of the realistic downsides of being a deaf composer. In an early scene, Beethoven is conducting a performance of one of his compositions (the Emperor Concerto), but loses track of where the orchestra should be, and begins giving out erroneous instructions to the orchestra. This confuses the musicians and seriously mars the performance, especially when an enraged Beethoven orders them to start over from the beginning. Truth in Television, sadly enough—Beethoven could compose just fine without his hearing, but conducting and performing were another matter, and he was ultimately forced to retire from both pursuits (during the performance of his Ninth Symphony, Beethoven was allowed to stand with the working conductor, but he was only permitted to tap out the tempo before each movement—and the musicians were ordered to ignore any direction he happened to give beyond that).
  • Proof is about the tribulations of a blind photographer played by Hugo Weaving.
  • Tortilla Soup: Hector Elizando is a chef who has lost his sense of taste. An Ethnic Remake of Eat Drink Man Woman.
  • In Trouble with the Curve, Clint Eastwood plays an aging baseball scout who is slowly losing his eyesight. Nevertheless, he still manages to cope with hearing the sound of the ball hitting the glove/bat.
  • Subverted in Sound of Metal; the protagonist's music career never recovers from his hearing loss.

  • In The Chronicles of Amber, Random's wife Vialle is a talented sculptress who happens to be blind.
  • DC Super Hero Girls: Pied Piper is the deaf music teacher. Harley didn't even know he was deaf until Katana mentioned it. He can feel the music more powerfully than hearing people.
  • Discworld's Soul Music: The book mentions that most composers have gone deaf by the time they die, this being the gods' idea of a joke. The joke is on the gods, of course. Deafness doesn't prevent a true composer from hearing the music; it prevents them from hearing the distractions.
  • Epithet Erased: Prison of Plastic reveals that although Giovanni is a Supreme Chef (and not just thanks to his epithet letting him instantly create soup), he has next to no sense of taste due to his habit of eating hot coals, combined with misuse of his aforementioned Soup epithet, which destroyed his tastebuds.
  • Fishbowl: The Goldfish Technique's drummer Jessica is deaf.
  • House of Leaves has Zampano, who wrote his manuscript in the form of a film review despite being blind and therefore unable to view films.
  • The novelization of Revenge of the Sith has Darth Vader compare himself to one after his crippling.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Several chefs on Chopped have created dishes with mystery ingredients they can't taste due to allergies or other dietary restrictions (e.g., a Kosher chef cooking prosciutto or a vegetarian chef cooking meat). When one chef got through two rounds despite being allergic to ingredients in both, his competitor worried about how well he might do when he could actually taste the food.
  • Cutthroat Kitchen: One of the challenges/disadvantages that is often up for auction is exclusive rights to taste while cooking.
  • In an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, a nature photographer à la Matthew Brady comes to town, and is secretly losing his vision. He takes Sully on as a local assistant, pretending to teach him the basics of photography but actually using his eyes to frame the photos.
  • Heroes: Emma Coolidge is deaf and picks up the cello because her ability, an enhanced form of synesthesia, allows her to see the sound waves as bright colors. She can also concentrate the sound vibrations into a powerful sonic blast.
  • House: As the canonical Wounded Healer, Dr. Gregory House's medical genius bestows a second chance at life to almost all of his patients, while his own prolonged state of misery implies that he himself is unable to enjoy life.
  • MasterChef Season 3 contestant Christine Ha was blind, which meant she couldn't keep her eye on the preparation or plating the way a seeing contestant could. She went on to win the season.
  • NCIS: One episode has a blind photographer as a witness.
  • Probe's "Now You See It...": John Bolt is a sculptor who had gone blind many years ago. He now works out of a junkyard, manufacturing kinetic sculptures that mostly work on electricity. He says he hates rich businessmen and only sells the worst of his creations to them (for inflated prices) because he hates them. He refuses to sell to Austin, though, since Austin merely annoys him.
  • On Project Runway, season 9 and All-Star Season 2 contestant Anthony Ryan Auld is colorblind but was often praised for his color choices.
  • Psych: The Twin Peaks tribute episode has the Dual Spires' local photographer reveal that he's secretly blind. Shawn discovers that the man's house is filled with photographs pinned to every available section of the wall... and they're all completely out of focus, with awful lighting, framing, and composition, depicting nothing in particular, and several are hung upside down. This manages to be humorous, tragic, and creepy all at once.
  • Pushing Daisies: Ned the Piemaker owns a pie shop (hence the Piemaker title), and manages to stay afloat by buying rotten fruit on discount and using his powers to revitalize them. But if he touches them again, they would return to their original rotten state, so he can never taste his own creations.
  • Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye: Sue sings Christmas carols despite being deaf. She jokes that she can tell when she hits the wrong notes by the faces other people make. In her autobiography, the real Sue Thomas (whom the show was based on) describes learning to play piano by memorizing the keys and learning to sing by feeling the vibrations of her mother's voice box.

     Tabletop RPG 
  • Vampire: The Requiem: Since the vampiric curse of undeath also makes any food or drink that isn't blood taste absolutely horrible and forces them to puke it up in short order, they can cook to their heart's content, but not only will they be unable to eat it, taste-testing is impossible.

     Video Games 
  • Kingdom of Loathing has an odd example with the skill "Torso Awareness," which makes you aware of your torso so you can wear shirts. You can only learn this ability from gnomes, who... lack torsos.
  • In Ace Attorney Investigations 2, the motivation behind the murder that Jeff Masters was falsely imprisoned for was that one of the chefs in the pastry competition Masters held years ago had lost his sense of taste and was competing for "The Angel's Recipe", a book of unreleased pharmaceutical treatments, in which he would find the cure for his ailment. Another chef discovered his secret and used it to blackmail him, eventually resulting in his death.
  • Beni-Enma from Fate/Grand Order is a Supreme Chef, but she has no tongue and thus can't actually taste anything. She was able to become such a skilled cook by judging the amount of nutrients, studying various preparation methods, and then observing other people's reactions when eating her food.
  • Larry from My Time At Sandrock is a Geegler, an intelligent, humanoid mutated lizard. He initially finds a job at the Blue Moon Saloon as a chef for lack of any other work, then discovers he has incredible skill in making human food. However, because his biology and sense of taste is so vastly different from humans, he's unable to taste or enjoy his own creations.
  • Velvet Crowe in Tales of Berseria is a Supreme Chef despite being only able to taste blood as a result of her transformation into a demon. It helps that she was a skilled chef as a human, as well as that she can rely on other people's sense of taste to judge her cooking.

     Web Animation 
  • In No Evil, Xochipilli sacrificed his hearing to seal the Black Tezcatlipoca, but it doesn't stop him from using Magic Music afterward.

     Web Original 
  • Discussed in True Facts About the Cuttlefish, about the cuttlefish's incredible color-changing skills despite the animal being colorblind:
    "Like a lactose-intolerant cheesemaker, the cuttlefish is unaware of its own gifts."
  • Jürgen Klausvonschwitz, the blind fashion designer of Brandon Rogers's videos can barely go about his day without getting himself or his employees injured, but is nonetheless passionate about his craft - to varying degrees of success.

     Western Animation 
  • Bender in Futurama is a robot with no taste receptors, yet he avidly enjoys cooking and sharing his creations with his biological friends (much to their dread). For the sake of humor, he often almost manages to cook properly. The first time he cooks, he seems to be doing fine; but he finishes by adding a gigantic "dash" of salt, and then he pours salt in all the drinks, too.
    • The trope actually gets discussed in "The 40% Iron Chef", in which Bender challenges celebrity chef Elzar to a cook-off, and is tutored in cooking by Elzar's old mentor. Said mentor assures Bender that he can be a great chef because of his lack of taste buds, not in spite of them, even mentioning Beethoven as an example.
  • Time Squad: Larry 3000 is the Team Chef, and loves creating all manner of sophisticated and advanced dishes, despite being a robot with no sense of taste. It doesn't bother him, since he's a machine and thus has no compulsion to eat, and sees cooking as an art form. Unfortunately, his efforts tend to be wasted on Tuddrussel, who considers fine dining to be "sissy food", but it's a smash hit with every other character who eats it.
  • The American Dad! episode "Portrait of Francine's Genitals" is about an abstract painting of Francine's vulva. Naturally, Stan gets upset about people looking at it and only comes to terms with how it inspires other people with its beauty. He even goes to visit the painter's widow and learns that he was blind, so even he didn't actually see the subject of his painting...he painted by touch.

     Real Life 
  • Not a fully blind artist, but apparently the director of House of Wax (1953), André de Toth, had only one eye and thus couldn't see any of the film's 3-D sequences.
  • As mentioned in the trope description, Beethoven suffered from deafness later in his life. The cause of this disability has been argued, with such possibilities as lead poisoning, syphilis, or even his habit of dunking his head in cold water to stay awake being cited. Didn't stop him from creating masterpieces, however. Notably, he wrote his Ninth Symphony - considered one of the greatest pieces of music ever written - while almost completely deaf.
  • There are several famous blind sculptors. That actually makes sense if you think about it because although they can't see their artwork, they can still use their sense of touch to feel it. However, blind Italian sculptor Felice Tagliaferri deserves special mention for his re-creation of a famous 16th-century statue that he wasn't allowed to touch.
  • Czech composer Bedřich Smetana wrote most of his greatest works (including the symphonic suite Má vlast and the opera The Bartered Bride) after becoming completely deaf later in life. Ironically, his loss of hearing freed him from many of his career obligations, which gave him more time to compose.
  • French composer Gabriel Fauré was forced to retire from most of his professional obligations a few years before his death as his hearing loss (and other health problems) became too severe to work through, but he continued to compose; the most notable composition from his final years was his String Quartet in E minor, and he had to refuse an offer by four musicians to perform it for him while he was on his deathbed, as what little sound he could still hear was horribly distorted.
  • English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams served in the Royal Artillery during World War I, and his time surrounded by loud and powerful guns resulted in his going completely deaf later in life, but his hearing loss didn't stop him from composing concert pieces and film scores right up to his death in 1957.
  • John Bramblitt is blind. He's also a painter. On Jay Ingram's last show on Daily Planet, Bramblitt painted Ingram perfectly after only touching his face - he even got the colors right. You can see a collection of his paintings here.
  • Dame Evelyn Glennie, who was the percussionist for the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony, is deaf. She once gave a TED talk about her experiences, online here.
  • Pete Townshend lost a good deal of his hearing over years of touring with one of the most famously loud rock bands ever. He now takes various precautions to keep his remaining hearing strong and to prevent himself from going entirely deaf, and he still composes and tours. He has done a series of PSAs warning aspiring musicians to protect their ears and once did a commercial for foam earplugs. Roger Daltrey similarly admitted that he had lost his hearing, and Neil Young's got tinnitus but says it's gotten better over time as he protects his ears now.note  Sting started wearing hearing aids but doesn't like them because they let him hear things he never could before, including "people talking a lot of shit." Unfortunately, hearing aids don't come with a BS filter.
  • Film critic Roger Ebert published a book of recipes for rice cookers after thyroid cancer deprived him of his ability to eat solid foods. He explained, "To be sure, health problems have prevented me from eating. That did not discourage my cooking. It became an exercise more pure, freed of biological compulsion."
  • While not entirely deaf, Sakanaction frontman Ichirō Yamaguchi has lost his hearing in his right ear after a sudden hearing loss in 2010.
  • After years of playing loud rock music in front of huge speakers, Danny Elfman and a few other members of Oingo Boingo began to develop irreversible hearing loss and would have gone stone deaf had the band stayed together any longer, which is why in 2007, Elfman formally announced that the band would never reunite.
  • The real Sue Thomas went deaf at 18 months and found that she could expertly read other people's lips while learning to communicate. This got her a job lipreading for the FBI.
  • Hal Sutherland, one of the animation directors of Filmation, is color-blind. This goes far toward explaining the odd color choices in some of their shows, particularly the infamous pink Kzinti.
  • Cartoonist James Thurber was legally (but not fully) blind as the result of a shooting accident, leading to his famous lumpy-looking art style.
  • Country Music singer Billy Hoffman recorded an entire album in 2000 despite being 97% deaf.
  • Renowned French painter Claude Monet was almost legally blind towards the end of his life. His cataract surgery left him unable to see any colors other than blue. This was known as his "blue period," and most of his works from that time reflected his vision impairment.
  • Sean Forbes is a born-deaf hip-hop artist. He was signed to Web Entertainment, the same independent record label that signed Eminem before he went with Universal.
  • Chelsie Hill was an aspiring dancer who became a paraplegic after a car accident during her senior year in high school. Rather than giving up on dance, she simply moved to promoting adaptive dancing for people in wheelchairs and started an organization called the Rollettes to inspire other women who use wheelchairs to do the same.
  • There are some blind photographers, like the British Ian Treherne, the Brazilian João Maia and others from different countries.
  • Mamoru Samuragochi, Japanese deaf musician crowned the "Digital-age Beethoven" by TIMES magazine. Later revealed to be a total fraud whose works were ghostwritten by another composer and wasn't actually deaf at all.
  • Jorge Luis Borges became completely blind at the age of 55, but didn't stopped writing even then, creating several works of poetry, short stories and literary criticism.
  • Mark Stroemer the bass guitarist of The Killers suffers tinnitus due to being too close to a pyrotechnic explosion while performing on stage in 2013. As such he rarely plays live shows anymore, and most of his work with the band is in-studio only, partially to prevent further hearing damage.