The musical world I inhabit is indeed a rich one. I get to wear many hats as a musician: conductor, clarinetist, saxophonist, educator. It is an exhausting and exhilarating vocation and one I cannot imagine my life without. Through music I have made my best friends and built a wonderful home, littered with instruments and endless musical pursuits. I have travelled the world and through sharing music, formed friendships with those of different language and culture.
Music has this magical power to form community and friendship. It demands you to become a better listener- it teaches you to listen attentively to the other and to ourselves. In rehearsal and performance this is true, but also in the to-ing and fro-ing of everyday life. It helps us to connect and it helps us to be human.
The following poem displayed on the wall of a music studio I taught in, was written by a young musician-poet. The final lines highlight in child-like wonder this profound truth. There is indeed connection between the pursuit of music and the virtue of attentive listening.
Music is magic. Music makes your ears bigger.
I knew something was wrong when my colleagues sang a melody together.
“What are you both singing?”
They thought I was joking- they were singing along with the choir next door. I laughed it off but no matter how hard I strained I couldn’t hear a thing.
Months later I built up the courage to book an appointment. And so at age 30, my audiologist explained to me I had moderate bilateral hearing loss. I have a reverse slope audiogram which is quite rare. My high frequencies are fine, it is my low and mid frequencies that are affected, making it the opposite of the hearing loss experienced by most people. The reason for my hearing loss is currently unknown – at first Meniere’s Disease was suggested as my Grandfather suffered the disease, but I haven’t shown enough symptoms to receive that label. Perhaps Auto-immune? Allergies? Or just plain bad luck and a genetic malfunction. Without a label, its tricky to map out the rate of future deterioration. I hope it is slow- even better, stopped.
As I prepare to have my first hearing aid fitted, I thought I might write about my experiences along the way.
I have ridden an emotional roller coaster this year trying to wrap my head around what this means. I have and continue to grieve music lost and fear the possibility of losing more in the future. At times I am filled with anxiety about my career – what on earth would a deaf music teacher do? But grief and anxiety have also been accompanied by a strange excitement and thrill about what might be around the corner- life has me in it’s grips and I have absolutely no idea where it will take me! At my desk I have a book of poetry propped up to remind me of this: Clive James’ Sentenced to Life. The title of the collection, taken from his poem of the same title has become a bit of a motto this year.
My passion for Music Education has grown immensely as I have wrestled with my new reality. For it is my musical literacy and knowledge which brings lost notes lingering in the shadows into full light. Thanks to my many teachers I will be able to read, play and enjoy music for the rest of my days. Missing pieces in the puzzle I hear, are filled, perhaps not perfectly but filled all the same to create a whole. I trace the patterns and sense musical gestures- my mind and memory completing soft and gentle harmonies lost on my ears. Without my musical experiences from a young age, this would not be possible.
Overwhelmingly I have felt gratitude. Gratitude because if my hearing disappears tomorrow I have had thirty years of a life brimming with it. I have studied it day in and out, working diligently at it’s craft. Through it I have learnt much about the world, humanity and myself. It has nourished my spiritual and emotional life and been fertile ground upon which many of my dearest friendships have grown.
Music is a gift and one I have enjoyed receiving over and over. Alon Tal, Grade Two was right. Music is magic, it has made my ears bigger. I am so thankful to share in it.