New articles are published every month under the headings below.

No Music, No Music City

Aug 2018 Digital Journal

Sertoma's Nashville-chapter provides a $50,000 Grant to Music City's Premier Hearing Charity, Songs for Sound, and the HEARtheMUSIC Project.

Imagine living in Nashville incapable of hearing the music. Sertoma's mission is on point: Service To Mankind. Sertomans across the country are unified with a single purpose: serve communities and improve the lives of those who need help; specifically, improve the quality of life for those at risk or impacted by hearing loss through education and support.


Songs for Sound's mission is to provide AWARENESS of hearing loss solutions, ACCESS to hearing loss screening and devices and encourage ACTION for those suffering from hearing loss and deafness. Songs for Sound aims to provide everyone with an opportunity to live a mainstream life full of sound and language, and of course, MUSIC.

Songs for Sound was founded by Kevin and Jaime Vernon of Nashville, Tennessee, parents of Lexi, whose diagnosis of profound hearing loss was originally missed and finally diagnosed at 1½ years old. The Vernon's learned that Lexi was eligible for a cochlear implant which took their daughter from a world of silence and allowed her to blossom into an active, speaking, and hearing child. Now, Lexi is 10 years old and a stellar student at Christ Presbyterian Academy. Lexi recently played in PGF Nationals as a top fastpitch pitcher in the U.S. for the 10U division.

When they found out Lexi was in fact deaf, they couldn't stand the thought of someone never hearing music like their wedding song or a break up song. These songs are tied to life's greatest moments and memories. My brother-in-law is the lead singer of Rascal Flatts, Gary LeVox. Can you imagine Lexi never hearing his amazing voice? Our mission is quite simple. Help people hear and help people hear the music.” Vernon continued, "I grew up with humble means in a small town in Ohio. I'm aware of healthcare issues in less fortunate areas of our cities and also rural America. My heart physically hurts to think of underserved children, seniors or veterans being missed. Lexi was profoundly deaf until the miracle of cochlear implants. Sertoma's support doesn't just mean a lot, it means EVERYTHING to this charity."

To date, Songs for Sound's Hear the Music Project, presented by Cochlear Americas, has provided close to 18,000 free hearing screenings and provided direct consultations, packets of checklists and information, hearing technology demos and more. Songs for Sound also offers a free Annual Kids Camp, serves the deaf in Montego Bay, Jamaica and has donated over $200,000 to hearing programs across the USA.

Sertoma's District Governor, Chris Wilson, responded, "The Sertoma Club of Nashville and our Hear Nashville program have helped over 800 people receive hearing aids in the last 7 years here in Nashville TN. We believe our partnership with Songs for Sound will allow us to grow our mission into other areas of the country while supporting the incredible work Songs for Sound is already doing by giving Americans access to hearing technologies such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.”

Hearing Loss no obstacle to a music career

July 2018

Talented pianist Rebekah Stewart has won a coveted position at the 4th International Music Festival “Beats of Cochlea” in Poland for people with hearing loss. ‘Beats of Cochlea’ was created by Polish surgeon Prof. Henryk Skarżyński in 2015 to help hearing implant users express their musical talents and to show the world that hearing loss is not an obstacle to a music career. This year’s festival runs from 9-12 July 2018 in Warsaw Poland. “I have always loved classical music and my favourite composer is Chopin, who was originally from Poland. To win a trip to Poland has made a childhood dream come true”

Listening to music is a milestone achievement for people with severe to profound hearing loss. Thanks to hearing implants, many users are able to enjoy their favourite songs, while others take their love of music one step further by playing instruments, singing, composing and recording music. To people with normal hearing it is still astounding to see how well musicians with hearing implants perform.

Rebekah explains “Having a hearing loss has meant that I struggled to hear and critique my own playing but also going to classical performances such as operas and symphony orchestras has been difficult. Since getting my MED-EL BoneBridge implant all of that has changed, I can now even discern when different parts of the orchestra are playing, and I am teaching students piano performance and music theory”

Rebekah now holds a Bachelor of Music from the University if Canterbury, Christchurch and has achieved all grades in piano performance through the Royal Schools of Music. At the festival Rebekah will have the opportunity to further develop her skills under the guidance of famous musicians, artists and teachers. 

Rebekah’s ENT surgeon Dr Melanie Souter commented: “Rebekah absolutely deserves this opportunity to play at the 2018 Beats of Cochlea in Poland. She is a very talented pianist! The BoneBridge bone conduction implant has helped Rebekah not only in everyday communication, but also with her music, and given her more confidence in everyday life.”

Musical Improvisation in the Brain

July 2018 UCSF News Services

Imagine you’re at a concert, and in the middle of a song, the band slowly gets quiet. Instruments drop out one by one until it’s just the drums keeping the beat. All of a sudden, you hear the keyboard chime back in, first a few notes here and there, and then an all-out improvised solo.

The song is reminiscent of the one the band was playing earlier, but somehow brand new and full of emotion, varying in tempo, volume and range – and it’s something that will never be produced again. How do artists produce such unique, emotive, and coherent pieces of music with no sheet music or practice to guide them?

That question has fascinated Charles Limb, MD, professor of otolaryngology at UC San Francisco, for many years. In addition to his work as a cochlear implant surgeon, Limb studies how we create and perceive music. “Improvisation is this prototypical creative behaviour that may serve as a model for how we understand the human brain,” said Limb.

Charles Limb

Limb shared his decades of work on the neural underpinnings of creativity and improvisation in a recent episode of Carry the One Radio. Limb, a life-long music fan who plays saxophone, piano and bass guitar, also spent years at the National Institutes of Health, where he gained the skills needed to conduct scientific studies on how the brain produces creativity.

Underlying Limb’s work is the notion that musical improvisation, as with any human behaviour, must be orchestrated by the brain. By visualising and studying the brain activity of master musicians as they improvise in an fMRI machines, he is beginning to understand how they are able to spontaneously create original, harmonious music.

Limb’s research has spanned a range of musical genres, from jazz piano to rap, highlighting similarities and differences between improvisation in the two musical forms. Limb and his team have suggested areas of the brain that are crucial for creativity, and how consciousness, self-censoring, and risk-taking factor into improvisation.

Creativity is central to the human experience, says Limb. “Humans die if they’re not able to problem solve and innovate,” he said. “Human creativity is the reason we are able to be innovative, advance the society, make progress.”

Deaf teenager earns music scholarship to college

June 2018

Autumn Greenlee, 18, says she plays mostly from vibration memory and muscle memory.

autumn greenleeWhat makes music meaningful isn't how it sounds but how it feels. "She's very confident in what she's playing and she's always very focused," her friend Pranav Vasishta said. "She's one of those, I'm going to be very sad that she leaves us and goes off and does her thing but I'm excited to see where her future will take her," Lafayette Orchestra Director Joseph Gutkowski said.

Her talent makes her stand out, even though she says, she's spent a lot of time trying to fit in.

"I'm sure when I play my instrument it sounds very different to me than it sounds to somebody else," Autumn told us. You see, Autumn is deaf. When her parents found out, they were left with many questions. "Is she going to be able to speak? Is she going to be able to have a job? Is she going to be able to do things that other children do?," her mom Lisa Greenlee remembered. "I did kind of feel left out and I did feel different, for sure," Autumn said.

After surgery to get a cochlear implant, which gave her a sense of sound, music pulled her in like a magnet. She got her first violin in the third grade. "So she started to do it and absolutely loved it, and so things just went from there, "mom says. When she switched from violin to viola, the lower and deeper sounds were like ripples. "I do play a lot from vibration memory, "Autumn clarifies. "And muscle memory.” And keep in mind, for the most part she's playing the classics. "I think the first piece of music I learned was Telemann Viola Concerto," Autumn said.

As Autumn closes the book on her high school years, a new chapter is about to begin. She's been offered a music scholarship at the University of Colorado. Safe to say, she already has a degree in perseverance. "I'm amazed, to be honest with you, that she has overcome so many challenges." her dad James Greenlee said. It's said that Beethoven was still composing masterpieces when he went deaf. Who knows what's to come for Autumn Greenlee and who she'll be inspiring?

Dubbo's Lindy Blekemore has cochlear implant for hearing loss

June 2018 Daily Liberal

A Dubbo musician’s world has opened up again after she underwent surgery to regain her hearing.

Lindy Blekemore “started going deaf” in one ear at the age of 30 and her hearing gradually deteriorated, but her situation worsened two years ago when her cochlea collapsed after surgery.

For the next 12 months distorted hearing meant interests she loved - including her role as conductor and musical director of Harmony Singers - became increasingly difficult. When Mrs Blekemore was almost “run over” by a car because she couldn’t “hear anything on the left side” she decided to brave gruelling surgery once more for a cochlear implant. In May last year it was “turned on” and while improvement has been gradual, she described it as “life-changing”. “Now it’s awesome, but it’s been a journey, yes, and for a musician, probably more so,” Mrs Blekemore said.

Lindy Blekmore

The passionate musician who has shared her talents within the choir, as well as Dubbo Theatre Company and school choirs, reflected on the past two years. After the first surgery, and her cochlea collapsing, everything had “sounded like it was under water. The girls from work would go out to tea and I wouldn’t go because it was just so hard, I couldn’t hear, any conversation. And that’s very common for people with hearing loss on one side as well. So you tend to isolate yourself or you go places where you know there’s not going to be a lot of background noise. So I coped with work and I coped with going home.”

In the past year, sounds gradually returned. “I remember the first thing I heard in that ear was a bird singing, and I thought wow,” she said, with emotion. The improvement in her hearing has allowed Mrs Blekemore to return to music. Harmony Singers is back from its period of recess and looking for new members. “It’s working out well, we started this term, and it’s been going really well,” the musical director said. “And I’m enjoying it.

Musician redefines herself after hearing loss

April 2018 WXXI News

Gaelen McCormick has been losing her hearing, to varying degrees over several years as a result of Ménière’s disease – a condition that also causes vertigo and tinnitus. "My husband and I have a morning ritual. Wake up, and the first thing he says, is “I love you” and the next thing I can say is “I can hear you” or “I can’t hear you” – and that’s how we start our day." 

The loss of hearing was a particular challenge for McCormick because of her profession: she is a musician. She actually stopped being able to hear out of one ear 12 years ago, but kept it a secret. That stopped being an option when the hearing in her other ear started fluctuating:  "In the years leading up to it, some days I would hear fine, some days I would hear fine with distortion, some days my hearing would drop 50 percent, 70 percent, and I would just be like, do I go to the concert tonight? Do I call in sick?  What do I do about this? And I never ever knew.”

McCormick recently started to speak publicly about the challenges she has been facing, posting this on Facebook at the end of 2017: I’ve been deaf now for almost one year, and grappling with what that means to be deaf and a musician. This is why you have not seen me play with the RPO.  Likely my professional performing days are over. Maybe. Jury’s still out on that one. Look at me living. Despite it all. And teaching. And creating, and writing new music for students. The next chapter is starting to get written in my own life. Love you all.

Gaelen McCormick

With the help of technology, resources from NTID at RIT, and a good support system, music is still McCormick’s profession. At first, she wasn’t sure if she could continue teaching – but she and a few students decided to give it a try. She recalled, "And I literally could hear nothing, um, and it went great! It went fine. They were so flexible with me.  I would use my phone from voice to text, in a notepad program, like an app like a notepad, and so, if I could not understand what they were saying.  Usually I can figure out what you’re asking me - What’s that note, what’s that fingering. And I would still demonstrate for them – and I can see what they’re playing; The bass is very visual, because it is so large, and so we were able to work around that. So now she is teaching more, as well as composing and producing a series of videos online to help students – while continuing to adjust her life and how she sees herself:

"A couple things that I learned right off the bat, were…haha, you can’t do everything by yourself; haha, always thought that I could. Yeah, no. I’m fiercely independent and very very private, and I had to drop all that. Because it’s just impossible. It’s just impossible. I needed a ton of help in the last year, and I just had to ask for it, and I just simply couldn’t be private about it. Because it doesn’t make any sense - “Why is she not playing? Or like, “Why I am walking into a store and not hearing someone who needs to get around me in the shopping aisle?” You simply have to be more transparent about everything going on. So that was one thing."

Her relationship to her identity as a musician also changed: "The other thing was: you say that this thing has defined me, being a bass player and a bass teacher, and I’ve realised it doesn’t have to define me any more. I’m so much more than that, and I’m so many other things.” McCormick had been anxious about how people would react, but the response has been overwhelmingly supportive. And she wants to share that message with others who might be struggling: "Whatever your thing is – because everyone’s got a thing – I mean you could be 100 percent healthy in your body, but if you’ve got a thing that’s hanging you up. There’s always hope to do whatever you do, you just have to find your way, and say, like, I may have this thing, and I want to do “x” – and, not but – and find the way that those things go together."

Being deaf and slowly losing my sight hasn’t stopped me learning four instruments

March 2018 iNews

Charlie Denton has overcome many challenges to play several musical instruments. Being unable to hear since birth has not stopped him from learning the violin, piano, guitar and now even the drums. The 11-year-old is already defying all the odds of being deaf, but is now also facing the possibility he may go blind as well. Charlie has Usher syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disorder caused by a mutation in any one of at least 11 genes resulting in a combination of hearing loss and visual impairment – his parents, Emma and Matthew, both 40, each have the exact same fault in the same gene. It is a leading cause of deafblindness and is at present incurable, although many trials are underway in the search for a cure. 

Charlie’s diagnosis of profound deafness was a massive shock to his parents, themselves professional musicians who make up half of the Carducci String Quartet, one of the UK’s most successful string quartets – all the more so as he was their first child together. “He failed his newborn screening but we were told one ear was ok and he was very mildly deaf in the other ear, so it wasn’t going to be a problem,” Emma said at the family home near Gloucester. “But then a friend of ours who used to come on tour with us thought he wasn’t hearing properly, so we started hitting on saucepans and Charlie, who was under a year old at the time, didn’t turn.” 

Charie dentonTheir doctor prescribed hearing aids a few months later, following a test, but when he was two years old, it was clear they were pointless. Charlie used to regularly throw them off as a toddler, a sign of his frustration that they were not helping him hear at all. “That’s when we were told about cochlear implants, which we’d never heard of before,” says Emma. “For us being musicians, we were all for natural hearing but were told that they could only carry out the operation [to have the implants fitted] when there was no residual hearing left. “We were sent a link so we could hear what Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue sounded like through a cochlear implant and it was just distortion, terrible. But, at that time, we didn’t know if Charlie was going to like music and we decided we had to do what’s best for him.” Charlie had his bilateral cochlear implants fitted at Bristol Children’s Hospital when he was just over three and a half, by which point he would not have heard a plane taking off next to him. It was only the second year bilateral implants began to be fitted – prior to then an implant was fitted in just one ear. “It actually took a month for him to heal before we could switch the implants on and we thought ‘how could we subject Charlie to a month of no sound?’ Emma says. “But then realised he has never had any. 

The operation was a success though with doctors stressing the earlier the operation takes place in a child, the better. “It’s like learning a language, or music,” Emma says. “The younger you start the easier’s it’s going to be.” “The only thing I can hear without the implants is my tinnitus,” Charlie says. “Which is a bit annoying at night when I don’t wear them, because they fall off if I do.” The device has 36 different frequencies, which Charlie can operate via remote control, if he feels something is too loud – like in a cinema – or too quiet. It is often tricky to get the levels just right, meaning Charlie often suffers from migraines. “He flicks them off if I’m hoovering… or if I’m nagging him,” Emma laughs. 

By the time his implants were fitted, he was around two years behind on his speech, but after the operation his progress dramatically improved. Listening to Charlie to speak today you would never know he is totally deaf. His musical aspirations began rather early, having been given a violin when he was just two. “The violin has been the hardest to learn, as I can’t really tell my pitching,” he says, before playing Rustic Dance, a typical piece in the Grade 4 test, which Charlie has passed. “I can’t tell if I’m out of tune or in tune. I usually have 5 practices a week, although have done more recently.” Charlie also took to the piano, passing Grade 1 when he was eight and Grade 2 last year. He has also just won a place at the local grammar school which, given the tests are dominated by verbal reasoning, is another extraordinary achievement. “He set himself the challenge of learning 200 new words over the summer in preparation for the test and he did it,” Emma says. “Plus, it’s just down the road so Charlie figured he could stay in bed a bit longer.” 

The couple also have a 9-year-old daughter, Daisy who has been given the all clear from Usher syndrome. “There’s a one in two chance of passing it on, so we were just glad we didn’t find out about that before Daisy was born,” Emma says. Charlie has the most severe type of Usher syndrome, which also causes retinitis pigmentosa in his eyes. Symptoms include trouble seeing at night and decreased peripheral vision with the onset of symptoms generally gradual. Usually, it culminates in tunnel vision, but it can cause blindness in the long run. As a result, Charlie has been learning Braille and touch-type at his primary school. Despite all the talents he possesses, and the determination at overcoming all the challenges that have come his way so far, he says it is too early to know what he wants to do when he is older. “He changes his mind a lot,” Emma says. “It was a forensic scientist last year, but he loves his sport so he may go down that route… I think for us it’s nice he has so many passions, and considering we were told he would have no appreciation of music, just to see him really enjoying playing and listening to music is all we could ask for really.”

Found sounds: Kids make music at camp

March 2018 Bowling Green Daily News

Kids at camp

Building on it a word at a time, campers at the Centre for Courageous Kids collaborated with a collective of Nashville-based songwriters to create a song of their own. The session was part of Hear the Music Kids Camp, a weekend retreat for children with hearing loss. Hear the Music is a children’s program organised by Songs for Sound, a Nashville-based charity organisation that provides free hearing screenings and holds events and offers services aimed at people with hearing loss or deafness. This was the second year the program was held at The Centre for Courageous Kids, an Allen County organisation that hosts free weekend and weeklong camps for children with chronic medical conditions.

“Music moves the heart, lifts the spirit and gives us a way to express all sorts of emotions,” said Joanie O’Bryan, president and CEO of the Centre for Courageous Kids. Hear the Music is also sponsored by Phonak, a maker of hearing aids and other solutions for hearing loss. The camp hosted 32 families this weekend, enjoying activities that also included horseback riding, swimming and bowling to go along with songwriting.

Sam Brown, 10, first experienced profound hearing loss in one ear as a 21-month-old and lost hearing in his other ear three years ago, and he now uses a hearing aid for the left ear and a cochlear implant for his right ear. “When you first get the diagnosis, there’s a lot of half-empty and a mourning that happens,” said Sam’s mother, Angie Brown, of Edgewood. “But then you wipe the dust off your knees and lean on the support of a lot of people.” This weekend’s camp has been a boon for Sam, who said he enjoyed archery and looked forward to seeing the horses and other animals kept on the campgrounds. He also hoped to return for a summer camp. “As much as we want to try to ensure he can thrive, the reality is there’s a comfort to being in an environment with others who are in the same situation,” Angie Brown said. “This has been a fantastic experience ... you feel the love in this place as soon as you come here.”

Paul Shanley of Songs for Sound said the Hear the Music camp offers a welcoming and creative environment for children who might otherwise struggle for acceptance because of their hearing loss. Kaylin Yost, a professional golfer who has worn hearing aids since she was 2 years old, was at the camp to share her story with campers and inspire them not to see their hearing loss as a handicap. “My parents always told me that my hearing aids weren’t a disability, they’re a gift,” said Yost, who won the gold medal in women’s golf in last year’s Deaflympics held in Turkey.

O’Bryan said that, in addition to the Hear the Music program, the Centre for Courageous Kids offers a music therapy program for other campers who come to the centre during the year. “We want to make a lasting impact and give the kids something that they can take with them after they leave,” O’Bryan said. “These kids have a chance to build relationships that are lasting.”

Events Coming Up

28 Oct 2018;
10:30AM - 02:00PM
Illawarra Cochlear Implant Support Group
11 Nov 2018;
11:00AM - 03:00PM
Sunday BBQ - November AGM
20 Nov 2018;
06:30PM - 08:00PM
Preserving Residual Hearing Seminar

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Here is a link to Deafblindness support and information. They are based in Western Australia and supported by Senses Australia.

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