une 2019 The London Free Press

Gerda Wirick’s life was turned upside down by a viral ear infection that robbed her of her hearing three years ago. Today, the London resident has regained her hearing thanks to a cochlear implant, a procedure where an electronic medical device replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Now, she’s getting ready to travel to Warsaw, Poland, as one of a handful of musicians selected from around the globe to participate at the Beats of Cochlea Music Festival from July 8 to 10. The festival, now in its fifth year, is open to musicians of all ages with hearing implants.

“I’m very excited, I’m very nervous,” said Wirick, a retired elementary school teacher who grew up playing piano and cello.

Gerda Wirick

All of the musicians will participate in an audition on the first day, with a select few chosen by a jury to perform at the closing gala. Attendees also will take part in workshops on topics ranging from voice and breathing to stage image and musical memory.

Problems with her ears first prompted Wirick to see her doctor in January, 2016, when she was diagnosed with a viral ear infection. “Things just went progressively worse,” said the mother of three, who started experiencing vertigo, a sensation of spinning and dizziness. Following multiple visits to the emergency room, Wirick lost her hearing for nearly four months before receiving a cochlear implant in her right ear. But her doctor warned her that playing music would be challenging.

Unable to play the cello anymore, Wirick doubled down on her piano practice, taking lessons from Marion Miller – one of London’s top classical pianists – and practising daily for up to two hours.

“I find piano practising to be a kind a form of meditation. It’s very soothing,” she said, crediting Miller for helping her improve as a pianist, despite only having hearing in one ear. “Marion has encouraged me . . . not to look at my fingers,” she said. “Part of the evolution of being a good pianist is just knowing your keyboard without having to look.”

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