Photo: Hilary Rae walking the new Forth Bridge in 2017
MY EXPERIENCE OF MUSIC AND DEAFNESS
“When I was at school, I was in the junior and senior choirs and played the violin in the orchestra. After I left, I continued to play in an amateur orchestra, and sang in various choirs. I also taught myself the guitar, and played in the church music group.
“When I retired in 1997, I was beginning to lose my hearing. I could not hear my colleagues speaking to me across the office. It got progressively worse and I will never forget the night I went with friends to a performance of Handel’s Messiah armed with a score. To my dismay, I found I could not follow it! I was shocked!
“In 1998 I got one NHS analogue hearing aid for my right ear. In 2001 I went to a private audiologist. She said I had bilateral high frequency sensorineural hearing loss, greater in my left ear than the right. She gave me two digital aids, which were a big improvement.
“I soon found I could not tune my instruments, and sadly I gave them away. It is interesting that I lost the hearing in my left ear altogether by 2016. I read in Bella Bathurst’s book Sound, that this is quite common for violinists.
“It got to the point where music just sounded like one long chord, and soloists sang on one note all the time! For a short time I could hear Yo Yo Ma’s solo Cello Suites, but soon even that became distorted, so I parted with most of my CDs.
“In 2016 after 22 years of struggling with increasingly powerful hearing aids, I asked to be referred for a cochlear implant. At my first visit to the only hospital in Scotland where they do the operation, they confirmed that I had no hearing in my left ear, and very little in my right. I was upset that they would only operate on my right ear, which meant sacrificing all the hearing I had left. I reluctantly returned for a second visit. I was accepted, and in October 2017 I had an implant. I could make out speech immediately when I was switched on after four scary weeks of silence! I was part of the hearing world again! I scored 82% in the listening tests without background noise, and the next time I got 94%! When background noise was introduced, however, I only got 49%. Sadly, there is little improvement with music.
“If I hear something well known like Crimond at a funeral, I think I can hear it and sing quietly. Most of the time I just mouth the words, and new songs leave me completely lost. I can enjoy listening to a Church of Scotland service live on my computer on a Sunday morning, or later on YouTube. Using headphones, I find I can pitch well known hymns and sing them out loud to my heart’s content!
“I had a visit from an organist friend, and tried singing him an octave. He said I ended up a few semitones too high! With another friend I asked if I could sing a hymn he had just played to see if I was singing in tune. He said no, but encouraged me to sing a few more verses, and after four, he said I was almost there. That gave me hope!
“I had a couple more glimmers of hope in December. I had an e-Advent Calendar on my computer. On one snowy page, I heard the dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy! I was excited. I asked a friend to check it for me, and I was right! It was being played on a celeste. Another page showed a carol singer at a cottage door, and a girl started singing O come all ye faithful. However, when the rest of the singers and instrumentalists joined in, I lost it.
“I have a CD ROM from the USA which has a whole section on music. I can only make out the drums and the xylophone on the instruments section, and with a selection of well-known songs and nursery rhymes, I can make some out from the rhythm! I will keep practising! I try listening to the car radio, watching the News without the subtitles, and singing very quietly if I think I recognise something.
“I enjoy walking up the road for my paper, and I can hear the birds twittering, but they all sound pretty much the same except the magpies. I can also hear the church clock chime the hour, and it does sound like a bell.
“I do discover new sounds occasionally, and hope for a little more improvement. I heard some of the recent thunder! They say one reaches the optimum level of hearing after two years, so I still have a few months to go. When I go away, I make sure people are aware that I wouldn’t hear a smoke alarm during the night, but I have NO regrets about having the operation.”
Hilary’s story resonates with many we have heard during the Hearing Aids for Music project. Hearing loss can be especially challenging for those who have been immersed in musical activities their whole lives, but persevering with different solutions and engaging in listening practice can be hugely rewarding and lead to improved experiences.
If you would like to contact Hilary about her experiences, then she is happy to hear from you (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you would like to share your own experiences of listening to and/or performing music, whether you are a hearing aid wearer or cochlear implant recipient, please do get in touch: email@example.com