June 2016 666 ABC Canberra
Imagine your favourite song being confined to a memory because hearing loss means it's no longer a joy to listen to. What would it be like to hear it again, decades later, through a cochlear implant? Peter Cianchi stopped listening to music after he was diagnosed with Meniere's disease in his 40s. The disease affects the inner ear causing gradual hearing loss and balance. "One of the problems with Meniere's is that you find you lose all sense of pitch, so for nearly 40 years I didn't listen to music at all — [especially] classical music — which I adore. Then with my cochlear suddenly I found things weren't out of tune. I rushed out and bought a gramophone and started playing music that I knew.” However, Mr Cianchi quickly realised the sounds of the orchestra were not as he remembered. "I discovered that you have to work pretty hard to try and make it come back again so that you can understand it. One of the important things is you start to recognise the different instruments in the orchestra, so it's much easier to listen to say a quartet or a duet than the full orchestra. But the full orchestra's such fun, you can't miss it."
Kristen Sutcliff has helped Peter Cianchi enjoy music again.
Mr Cianchi found help through a music rehabilitation course run by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO). The Rediscovering Music Program reintroduces music to people with hearing loss through concerts where participants can both watch and listen to the performances and interact with the musicians. The program helps people recognise different instruments and how they sound through hearing aids and cochlear implants. Audiologist Kristen Sutcliff who runs the program said it could be a sad predicament for some people. "When their hearing loss gets worse and if they have to have high-powered hearing aids or they have to go on cochlear implants, sometimes they lose that enjoyment of music, typically they'll find pitches harder to differentiate so they won't know whether it's a lower or a higher pitch. We also lose the timbrel aspect of music, so for example you might play one piece on a violin and then play it on a flute and someone with a cochlear implant, without any visual cues, may not be able to tell which instrument is which."
Mr Cianchi said it was two of the musical greats, Schubert and Beethoven, who inspired him to rediscover his love for music. "I noticed that Schubert also was afflicted with sickness, and then I remembered Beethoven went deaf," he said. "I thought blow it, if these people can do all of this wonderful work it's not going to stop me from doing anything I want. It's never going to be the same as it used to be, but that's immaterial. What's important is that you get the feeling and you get the same thrill and excitement of the music and that's really what matters."
Live performances by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra help people with cochlear implants and hearing aids relearn how to listen to orchestral music.
The CSO held its next Rediscovering Music Program as part of Hearing Awareness Week. President Sue Walters and Neville Lockhart drove down from Sydney and greatly enjoyed the day, which featured a string quartet and percussion duo along with an excellent talk by RIDBC’s Valerie Looi. Neville was especially interested as his wife Judy plays and teaches classical music and helps manage the Steel City Strings Orchestra; he attends their concerts and enjoys most items, while having no concept of what they sound like to normal hearing people.