I had always had an interest in music from a very young age. When I was 3 or 4 years old, I would hear things on the radio and just be able to play them in the piano. What little I could hear, I could hear the bass line quite well and I could sort of work out what to do, so I would spend hours and hours just playing the piano.
I started formal music study in the middle of primary school and that had some challenges. I cannot hear the top couple of octaves of the keyboard, so I had to play down an octave and I would have to practise all my leaps and jumps very carefully, and basically do it via muscle memory rather than being able to rely on hearing, whether it was correct or not.
When I got to high school, I learnt cello for a couple of years, which was great. I enjoyed that. Then I thought I will try flute, which didn’t go so well because of not being able to hear the higher frequencies. I managed to teach myself by listening to the harmonics of the lower octave, which then enabled me to play cleanly, but that only worked to a certain degree, and so I ended up giving it away.
I have sung in choirs all my life and I currently sing with the local Symphony chorus, which has been absolutely amazing. As a vocalist, when I get to certain parts of the vocal range where I can’t hear as well, I go by the feel and the vibration of how it feels to sing certain pitches, which normally enables me to sing pretty well in tune 90% of the time. The challenge with that is in rehearsals, hearing the conductor. I use an assistive listening device, which I give to the conductor or the chorus master to hear in rehearsals. Without that, I would not be able to attend rehearsals at all. I wouldn’t be able to hear. I also make sure that I sit in the middle of the row so that I can hear my part around me. That works really well.
In that sense, I’ve found that there’s not really a lot of understanding of hearing problems in the music industry. I’ve had people say to me, “oh, well, we’ll just turn it up louder so you’ll be able to hear that violin part”. Well, it doesn’t matter how much you turn it up, it’s not going to make any difference. But trying to explain that to people who don’t get it can be a little difficult at times. I have also encountered some musicians don’t like me using an assistive listening device to help me hear. They find it really confronting, I think. I have to admit there was quite a period of time where I stopped using it because I didn’t really want to appear different, but now I have got to the point where I think I need to do it. The only way we’re going to get education around these things is to actually do it.
In the end, I’m very pleased to be able to be a part of the community and sing in the local chorus. Just because you’re hearing impaired, it doesn’t mean you can’t get out there and live life. You can do it. It’s just a matter of modifying things to be able to deal with that as best you can and educating people along the way. Keep going because it’s worth every minute of it.