New articles are published every month under the headings below.

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.”

From deafness to musician

Feb 2018 The Daily Iowan

Born completely deaf, University of Iowa freshman Hunter Orthmann now marches with the Hawkeye Marching Band, and hears every note that comes out of his trumpet. Orthmann is the recent recipient of the prestigious Graeme Clark Scholarship from Cochlear America.
When Orthmann first came in to the world, he was born very sick. He spent more than two weeks in the neonatal intensive-care unit. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him and couldn’t treat him or make any promises regarding how long he would live. “It was the worst 15 days of our lives,” said Dale Orthmann, Hunter’s father. “Early on, we didn’t know whether he was going to make it or not.” Hunter Orthmann, however, had other plans. He survived his stay in the hospital and was able to go home with his parents. But he had another obstacle to overcome. He was diagnosed by the doctors as completely deaf with no way to fix it. Doctors told the Orthmanns to learn sign language and put Hunter in a school for the Deaf.

Hunter OrthmannDoctors told the Orthmanns that, due to Hunter’s rare form of deafness, he was not a candidate for a cochlear implant.

When Hunter was a little over 1 year old, doctors began putting cochlear implants in children. The implants were later tested on adults with the same form of deafness as Hunter. Of the 13 adults tested, 12 were successful. After learning of this, the Orthmanns decided to get the implant for Hunter.The implant was successful; when the Orthmanns left Mayo Clinic, where Hunter had the operation, they saw almost immediate results in the operation. “When we left Mayo after hooking him up, Hunter was in a car-seat in the back. We were just pulling out of Rochester, and a very loud commercial came on,” Chantal Orthmann, Hunter’s mother, said. “It startled him out of his sleep. I was like ‘He heard that. In his sleep, he heard that.’ ”

Now, 18 years later, Hunter is a student at the UI. He has always intended to become a physical therapist in order to help not exclusively deaf people like himself but anybody in need who has had similar struggles. Hunter’s ambitions are supported by Cochlear America, which provides scholarship money to him for the duration of his time at the UI. Hunter also has talents outside of his academics, such as his musical career. He first learned how to play piano by his mother, starting when he was in about first grade. “To be honest, music is what I cried about the most,” Chantal said. “The fact that he would never enjoy music like I did. That he would never share my love of music with me.” Fortunately for them both, Hunter has become very musically talented over the years, as his seen by his participation in the marching band shows.

Hunter, when discussing his life with his implants, is very grateful for them, saying they were life-changing. “I am super appreciative of having these cochlear implants,” Hunter said. “It has allowed me to live a completely normal life. When you’re deaf, actually deaf, you realise what a blessing it is to just listen to music and enjoy the sounds of life.”

Mandy Harvey building a career as musician despite hearing loss

Feb 2018 Kitsap Sun

It's a lot of work being Mandy Harvey. The singer-songwriter, who turned 30 Jan. 2, became a national sensation for her performances on the 2017 "America's Got Talent" TV competition. She has been deaf since she was 18, following a childhood of hearing problems, surgeries and degeneration that came to a head just as she was starting her college career as a music major at Colorado State University. That hasn't stopped her from singing her way to stardom. She can't hear herself sing, but millions of others can and have. And they've been moved.

That's where the work comes in. "I work on music and singing and pronouncing words 40 to 70 hours a week, every week, and have for 10 years. So I put in a crap-ton of work. Happily, but it's a ton of labor. There's a lot of muscle memory that's involved in the actual forming of words and singing them. I use a lot of visual tuners. I do a lot of speech therapy. There's many different tools and pieces and parts that create everything as it works together”.

That work has enabled Harvey to realise a career she once couldn't have imagined. Growing up, stage fright prevented her from any kind of solo performance (she did sing in choirs), and the hearing loss only sealed the deal in her mind. Instead of closing a door on music, though, Harvey's hearing loss opened it. She started playing guitar and singing with her father, Joe, at his behest, and realised she could still do the thing she loved.

Mandy HarveyMandy HarveyMandy Harvey grabbed the nation's attention with her fourth-place finish in the 2017 edition of "America's Got Talent." 

"I expected it to be total crap," she said, "I ended up being accurate with my notes. That kind of was a door open for me.” As for the stage fright? After losing her hearing, she developed a slogan that pushed it into the background: "What's the worst that could happen? I thought losing my hearing was going to destroy the very core of who I was. And I'm still standing. And not only standing; I'm a better person for it. I love people more. I pay more attention. I've grown stronger."

What she feared as a weakness, she has turned into a strength. Hundreds of concerts, four pop and jazz-flavored CDs and the breakout performance on "AGT" (she finished fourth) are proof of that.

While stage fright is no longer an issue, Harvey might still get cold feet on stage. Literally. As one concession to her hearing loss, she performs barefoot. It helps her feel the things she cannot hear.

"You can feel the drums, you can feel the bass. So, being able to feel the music through the floor, it makes me feel like I'm part of the band, and not just the only person in the room who doesn't really understand what's going on.”

Cochlear implant gives Columbus man the gift of music

Feb 2018 10TV

Pat Vincent has picked up a new hobby -- the violin! "Music has been a big thing for me," said Vincent. Most people his age tend not to tackle such cumbersome tasks. Vincent is 68 years old. "It was something I always wanted to do, is play music," he said. "But, it was never really an option. Because I couldn’t do it.” Vincent is deaf. He lost hearing in his right ear when he was 13. The hearing in his left ear vanished soon after. "I came home one night and my ears were ringing. I had a lot of tinnitus. I never had that before and I felt a little bit queasy," Vincent said. Doctors later discovered Vincent likely went deaf because of Meniere's disease which causes dizziness, hearing loss and tinnitus, which is ringing or buzzing in the ear. "I had all three of them," he said. Vincent, an avid music lover, was forced to adjust to a silent world.

Pat Vincent"It's something that I'm not sure I comprehended," he said. "I didn't need a car with a radio cause I didn't use it. I didn't need a telephone cause what would you use a telephone for?” At the age of 60, Vincent decided to get a consultation for a cochlear implant. "My regret is that I waited too long," Vincent said. He was given the implant through outpatient surgery. Immediately, his love for music reappeared. "That memory of music never goes away," he said. "So, even though I couldn't hear and I kind of forgot what music was... when it started coming back it was kind a whole new experience for me.” Vincent is now taking violin and piano lessons and practices an hour a day.

Having a cochlear impact has brightened his life and allowed him the joy of music again!

According to the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services, there are more than 324,000 registered cochlear devices worldwide. Around 40,000 of them are implanted in children.

12-year-old hearing-impaired musician in tune with Vancouver culture Father and son team Romeo and Alexander Boar release The Vancouver Song

Feb 2018 CBC News

Romeo & Alexander BoarTo raise awareness about speech and hearing disabilities — and to celebrate their love for Vancouver — Romeo and Alexander Boar have released The Vancouver Song

Vancouver is known for the diversity of its cuisine, the vibrance of its culture scene and the scenic beauty of its naturals wonders. Summing all those qualities up in a one song would be tricky, but that's what Alexander Boar, 12, and his father Romeo Boar, 53, set out to do with The Vancouver Song. Inspired by their love for Vancouver, Alexander and Romeo co-wrote the song together — an accomplishment all the more impressive since Alexander was born deaf.

He received a cochlear implant when was three and began to learn speech and language. Later in Alexander's life, Romeo bought a synthesiser with the hope that Alexander would become curious about music. "We contemplated piano but I didn't want to force him, it would have been the last thing I wanted to do," said Romeo. He came from a musical family — his father and sister are both violin players — and he wanted his son to experience the joy that can come from composing.
"The idea was to inspire Alex, to find ways to introduce him to music.” The idea worked, and Alexander now has two years of piano lessons under his belt. "It was frustrating," said Alexander, speaking about his first days at the piano. "But it's a great experience and I do really enjoy piano."

Since the father and son duo love outdoor activities in and around Vancouver, they chose to celebrate the city in their song. Also, they say the song will raise awareness to the difficulties faced by children with hearing or speech disabilities. Through trial and error, The Vancouver Song became more coherent and musically sound. Working closely with the Burnaby, B.C. music production company Digital Sound Magic, the Boars turned their song into what it is today.

Physician’s Love for Patients & Music Leads to His Cochlear Implant

Oct 2011 Cochlear Implants

For a physician, being able to closely listen to a patient’s concerns is key when diagnosing a condition. Likewise, a musician must carefully discern pitches to successfully play with an orchestra. When Dr. Listwa began to lose his hearing, he worried how it would affect his medical practice, but also his ability to perform music. Would a cochlear implant enable him to improve his listening abilities both professionally and personally? Twenty years of progressive hearing loss found Howard Listwa at a crossroads. The Allentown, PA physician’s hearing aids were of less benefit in daily communications at his private practice. As a result, he relied more heavily on his medical assistants to repeat what had been said when conversing with patients.

Dr Howard ListwaDr. Howard Listwa once again enjoys performing music by using a cochlear implant and a hearing aid

His concerns for his career were significant, but his disappointment in not being able to enjoy and perform music was nearly as important. Howard had learned to play the cello as a child, but as a busy medical professional had put his instrument aside. His love of music was still strong and he’d decided to return to it, but he needed better sound quality than his hearing aids could provide. “My hearing loss stood in the way of trying to enjoy the experience. When listening to recorded music you can change the volume and other settings, but you can’t adjust it while performing in a classical concert,” Howard explained.

He was faced with a difficult decision. “I was concerned I would have to retire, or find out if I was a cochlear implant candidate,” the physician/musician rationalised. Fortunately, Howard qualified for a cochlear implant and would be able to partner it with his hearing aid to take advantage of the remaining hearing in the other ear. “It’s made things dramatically different,” the doctor remarked when asked about how life has changed at work. He says his peers are happy for him and he’s much more comfortable listening to patients and participating in meetings. Howard often uses a neckloop with the telecoils on his cochlear implant and hearing aid helping him to listen on the phone with both ears. And music? Howard said, “I knew that music with my cochlear implant would not be the same quality of natural sound. But I found that over time my pitch discrimination improved when using software programs like Sound & Way Beyond to retrain myself.” The cellist now plays often with his local orchestra.

Howard’s family is delighted with his success, especially his wife Sherree, “It is just wonderful. I have had to practice ‘not’ interpreting for him anymore!” The voice of his young granddaughter is particularly special and the ease of being able to hear while dining at noisy restaurants with friends is pleasing. “It’s a life-changing event,” Howard remarked and asked others to heed his advice about considering a cochlear implant. “When you can’t understand what people are saying to you, and they’re telling you over and over that you can’t hear, then Go For It! What a difference. I got my life back!”

Memory, music, and the cochlear implant

Laura C StevensonAs I start my car in the morning to drive to work, I hear in my head the opening measures of the Prelude of the Bach D minor cello suite. Pushing the waiting CD into its slot, I hear those measures in the same key that played in my mind. After some 12 measures, however, I lose the melody; I hear dynamics, I hear vibrato and the sound of the bow sliding over the strings, I sense some rise and fall in pitch, but I no longer hear the key of D minor. As I drive on, and Rostropovich plays through the suite, I hear a few more phrases clearly, but for the most part what is accessible to me is the genius of Bach, the subtlety of the phrasing, the energy of the cellist, the vigour of the interpretation — everything but the music. My drive to work is almost exactly the length of the suite in D minor, and as an experiment I once listened to it every morning and evening for a month, striving to see if repeated experience would give me access to more of the music that I knew was there. It did not. I heard exactly what I could remember — the parts I could whistle, the snatches that went through my head during the day. But of the passages in which Bach’s modulations made polyphony of a single melodic line, I heard no more on day 30 than I had on day one.

The miracle, of course, is that I can hear any of it. While for the first 30 years of my life I was a proficient amateur musician, over the next 25 years sensorineural hearing loss deprived me first of the violin and viola, then of the piano and guitar, then of human speech. Deafness eventually became total; when in 2003 I decided to have a cochlear implant (CI), I had heard no recognisable sound for 10 years. The surgeon and the audiologist both warned me not to expect miracles from the CI, for it could not replace the 100,000 hair cells in the cochlea that permit most people to hear.

Instead, the operation would implant 16 electrodes, which, when connected to a tiny computer worn behind the ear, would send electrical impulses to the brain. Gradually, the brain would learn to recognise and interpret those impulses as sound — a process dependent on an auditory memory that my 10 years of deafness had probably caused me to lose.

As it materialised, my auditory memory had survived my years of silence. Perhaps because that memory had been stimulated by the phantom speech I had “heard” while lip-reading and the verbal agility required by my job as teacher and writer, I was one of the fortunate CI recipients who could understand speech from the day the processor was switched on. But in the days and years after the initial euphoria, I learned that the connection between hearing and memory was simultaneously miraculous and inexplicable. To a certain extent, my auditory memory was open to training. In the first months after the implant, my husband and I did a daily drill of one-syllable words, which initially I could not tell apart. Reef and wreath. Thumb and fun. Fir and firm. There were dozens of them, their sounds generally of interest only to linguists, audiologists, and the programmers of voice-activated computers. In my case, they served the double purpose of teaching me to distinguish between phonemes I had not heard for years and teaching me to listen — as opposed to relying on the “hearing” strategies I had developed over the past quarter century. No context, no facial or manual cues, no lipreading. I had to hear, and I had to develop confidence in what I had heard.

Initially, that confidence seemed to be an integral part of relearning to hear, because in the early weeks with the implant my auditory memory performed amazing feats without any effort on my part.
Two or three days after my processor was switched on, I walked down the road to a stream that rushed down a hill and flowed through a culvert at my feet. Looking at it, I heard a series of computer noises, beeps and pops that were clearly connected to the sound of the stream.

I walked home in some disappointment, consoling myself that at least I had heard something. Three days later, I walked to the same stream — and I heard the eager mutter of water tumbling downhill over stones. The sound was unmistakable, and try as I might I could not conjure up the computer sounds that I had heard before. Sometime between Monday and Thursday, my auditory memory had taught my brain what to hear when I crossed a stream. Emboldened by my experiences with the stream and my increasing proficiency in distinguishing phonemes, I turned to music. I had been warned that the technology was simply not up to processing the nuances of musical sound, and yet my improvement in other areas had been so marked that I hoped that determination and repetition, combined with an auditory memory conditioned by years of ear training, would give me something back. I was not entirely wrong.
After several weeks of practice with a tuning fork, I could sing the A440 that pulsed beneath my hand. Given a guitar tuner, I could sing in tune with the instrument. Given a piano, I could play the charming, simple pieces that Bartók, Stravinsky, Kabalevsky, and Bach had written for beginning players. Simplicity, however, was essential. The first time I heard an organ, I turned in sudden fear that a truck had driven into the church. The first time I heard a piano quartet, I couldn’t tell the sound of a violin or cello from the piano. I couldn’t tell on a CD or on the radio whether large music was orchestral or choral. Gradually, I learned that the impossibility of understanding polyphony was part of a larger technological problem: the processor attached to my 16 electrodes processed everything it “heard,” without the 100,000 hair cells’ ability to distinguish important from unimportant sounds.

The difficulty was familiar to me; during the years I had worn a hearing aid, the clink of knives and forks at a dinner party had come to me with the same intensity as conversation, and the click of secretarial typing in offices had interfered with my ability to process speech. Confronted with an interpretive device that feeds it a welter of unselected information, the brain does its best, but no amount of auditory memory can distinguish meaning from the extra noises supplied by radio static, a room that echoes, side conversations, or the complexity of a symphony orchestra. The aesthetic quality of the interfering noises makes no difference; what the brain perceives is distortion. If this were all, it would be easily understandable in the terms supplied to me by the experts: the technology, however miraculous, is not yet capable of performing musical discrimination. I would add to that, not fast enough, because I am repeatedly aware of the half or whole second it takes me to process a short spoken sentence; both the processor and the brain need to sort through thousands of possible electronic impulses, and the result is inevitably delayed understanding.

With music, the number of electronic impulses increases geometrically, and neither the processor nor the brain can sort through the possibilities quickly enough for understanding to occur. And yet, there are those opening measures of the D minor cello suite, or those moments of melody in the later gigue that suddenly appear with complete clarity from the muddle of bowing, vibrato, dynamics, and rhythm that the brain has been able to recognise but not to process. Day after day, week after week. The same passages. The same moment of hearing. The same disappearance.

Initially, I thought of those brief moments as “real” hearing. Now, in my fifth year of wearing a processor — the latest, upgraded version — I no longer know what “real” hearing is. Certainly, my practice with phonemes enables me to look as if I have real hearing; as tested in the perfectly silent room of the audiologist’s office, my verbal comprehension of single words out of context hovers around 90 percent.

Yet, suppose I sit down to play the Chopin Prelude in D-flat major on the piano — a piece my fingers recognise instantly. I play the opening bars. I hear it. I am sure. But then my fingers lose their place — and I can’t correct them, because I can apparently “hear” only what is right, not what has gone wrong. Or suppose that, frustrated by the obvious problems that attend playing without practicing, I turn to the far-easier Bach Prelude in C major. I play. I delight in Bach’s hymn to the tempered scale — but I suddenly realise that I am hearing it in D-flat, not in C. Playing one of the chords again and again will eventually bring me back to the right key — but what was I hearing in the interim? A phantom? A memory? Certainly not the “real” sound. And then there is the problem of learning new material. If I want to learn a new easy piece on the piano, I must do so by rote. A pattern with the fingers. An intellectual recognition of the differences between a third and fourth here, an augmented seventh here, a cadence there. After an hour of concerted effort, I can play the piece accurately, if it is sufficiently simple. But I can’t hear it. A similar problem arises when I try to learn a new language. Before a quick trip to Russia, I memorised the Cyrillic alphabet, came to grips with the oddities of Russian syntax, and then turned to what I expected to be the easy part: learning vocabulary. I couldn’t do it. I repeated the words and phrases again and again, and my husband repeated them to me. Five minutes later, they were gone. I tried harder, walking through the woods while repeating one word over and over in the rhythm of my footsteps. By the time I got home and took off my boots, the word had disappeared. Not the syntax, not its visual form. The sound.

It would thus seem that I cannot “hear” sounds of which I have no memory. And it is apparently this phenomenon that led my surgeon and audiologist to warn me against expecting miracles of the CI.
They deal on a weekly basis with infants who have received cochlear implants, the idea being to create a foundation for auditory memory as early as possible in the development of what Steven Pinker calls the language instinct. Past the age of seven, a child receives increasingly less help from the implant; adults who have been deaf all their lives are apparently in the same situation as I am when I attempt to learn a language I have not heard.
To return to the D minor cello suite, it would seem that I can hear only what I remember, but it is a little more complicated than that. Given certain cues — usually rhythmic — I can recognise pieces of music I once knew well: the opening bars of the Italian Symphony, the poignant melodies of the Schubert Double Cello Quintet, the English horn solo of Dvorák’s New World Symphony. But recognition is not hearing; the sound that my brain processes is such a hideous distortion of the memory it conjures up that I can make myself listen to it only by a concerted act of will. That is not true of those sudden moments of the D minor cello suite, or of the unification of sound and memory that enables me to hear, undistorted, the C major prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier when I play it on the piano. Some auditory input enables me to hear music — perhaps a phantom but, if so, a very close replica of the real thing. Other auditory input activates only the conditioned responses left from 30 years of musical life. There seems to be no rational reason why the same input should stimulate different responses.
Finally, it is one of the peculiarities of auditory memory that it conjures up music it hasn’t heard. Daily playing the CD of the cello suite gives me no more access to its own music, but exposure to it brings back hundreds of folk melodies I haven’t thought of for years, themes from symphonies, choral works, string quartets — not heard, perhaps, but suddenly, inexplicably remembered.

Somehow the great musical meditation of Bach sets off a chain reaction of memory. Having listened to the suite, I find myself singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” or some other song impossibly far from any experience of Bach. But that the memory should be stimulated at all, that music should be accessible even in a limited way to somebody completely deaf, is surely a 21st-century technological version of Amazing Grace.

Events Coming Up

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Illawarra Cochlear Implant Support Group
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