Music has largely gone for me now. It has morphed into a series of very strange sounds. But that doesn’t bother me as much as it would bother some other people, because music was never a big part of my life. I don’t really miss it – I’m just intrigued at what has happened.
Just to establish my credentials I could tell you that I did once go to see bands. I confess I was more of a folk club person at university but for a while I went out with the Chairman of the Students Union and he got free tickets to events. So I’ve seen Slade – oh yes. In fact, I’ve seen Yes (actually that was at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall in 1973). I don’t remember any others. It’s not very impressive is it?
Just as unimpressive is my interest in classical music. There were some pieces I liked but it was never my thing. The last exposure was at a concert Nigel was invited to through work. One of the pieces in the programme was The Lark Ascending and the lark very quickly ascended right out of my hearing range, leaving me sitting there watching the violinists working frantically but silently. I gave up altogether after that.
The very odd sound of music for me now is partly caused by the fact that I’m profoundly deaf for very high pitched sounds – hence the violin problem. I suspect part of the “problem” is also caused by my hearing aids. These (Phonak Nathos) reduce the frequency of some high pitched sounds to help me understand speech. I will trade better speech understanding for just about anything else, so the loss of music, for me, is a small price to pay.
(The hearing aids deserve a whole post by themselves. By way of a quick introduction, let me explain that about fifteen years ago I quipped to an audiologist that instead of hugely boosting the volume on the sounds for which I was almost profoundly deaf it would be better to reduce the frequency of those sounds to something I COULD hear. “Ah”, she said, “they’re working on that, but at the moment you’d need a rucksack to carry them in.” About 5 years ago I was given them by the NHS, successfully reduced to normal hearing aid size).
I assume that the speech I hear (through those hearing aids) sounds nothing like the speech someone with good hearing would hear, because of the fiddling with the frequencies that my hearing aids are doing. But I’m used to it and it sounds normal to me. Music, however, doesn’t sound normal at all. When the National Anthem is played at a sports event on the TV, for example, it is completely unrecognisable. If I didn’t remember it I wouldn’t know what it was. A few years ago, after a funeral, I described the sound of the organ in the church as random bangings in a boiler house – very difficult to sing to.
But here is a very intriguing thing – when it comes to a piece of music I have really loved and played often it sounds almost the same as it ever did. In the car I have a couple of CDs of someone called Bridget St John. She was a singer-songwriter in the folk tradition in the early 70s who you won’t have heard of. Discovered by John Peel, she produced a couple of albums before disappearing from the scene. I loved those albums (told you I was a folk club girl). You know when a piece of music brings back a time, a place, a feeling – something important about who you actually are? Her songs do that for me. And in the car today (when there isn’t much road noise, at least) they sound much the same. Isn’t that odd? I can only suppose that the music is so well remembered that it still lives on in my brain, and needs only a few snatches to be brought back to life.
My lovely husband, on the other hand, was a dedicated music follower in his youth, with an incredibly impressive list of bands he has seen live – everything from David Bowie to the Sex Pistols; from Roxy Music to the Ramones. So he loves to watch the pop retrospectives on the telly and, because of his interest, I’ve developed quite a love for some of it myself, decades after the event. In part this is because of the glory of subtitling. I tell you, you hearing people, you are missing out! Put the subtitles on. They are a revelation. Deaf people must be the only ones to “hear” and understand every wonderful slurred word of some obscure song, every syllable of rap, every snarl. Who cares about the sound being weird? Subtitles rule. (Unfortunately, they sometimes cover up the fascinating bits of history about the singer that pop up at the bottom of the screen – sorry Nigel).
Just to conclude, my general point is that, because I was never really into music in the way that some people are, the disappearance of it hasn’t really caused me any distress. Some things I really miss, but music isn’t one of them.
5 thoughts on “Very strange music”
It may be nepotistic of me, but might I suggest that you apply for the post of Director in Chief of our youngest child’s violin practice? You have all the qualities to suit you for the role.
ANOTHER advantage of deafness – I hadn’t thought of that one. Thanks Emily.
Your blogs continue to be great! Well done, and I hope more and more people are benefitting.
I could empathise totally with your musical experiences, if not with the same music. I laughed at the lark ascending off the scale. My own equivalent, in hearing aid days, was when my son was playing in an orchestra and I went to one of their concerts. They gave what seemed to be a splendid rendition of the 1812 Overture (as you say, your brain fills in all the missing bits when you know the music) but as the crescendo built up to the climax and the percussionist raised his arm for the massive crash on the cymbals (the Wantage Orchestra didn’t do cannons), I was suddenly plunged into surreal silence. The rather primitive volume control on the aids had responded to the huge volume increase by just cutting out. I must have visibly jumped – and then had to suppress a fit of giggles at ‘my’ version of the 1812.
Although known music sounds better with an implant, and it’s amazing to be able to hear even the highest pitch sounds on their own, unknown music is still pretty much no-go for most people. According to the audiologist who had to field my queries, although I’m not sure how accurate she was, the frequencies in the processor are balanced in favour of speech sounds, so higher pitch notes tend to be overwhelmed by lower notes, with the result that with mixed instruments I’m back to square one and can’t hear the ‘tune’. Some months ago I turned on the radio in the morning to hear extraordinary ‘droning’ notes. Only after registering the rhythm and noting the time (just before the main news at 8am), did I work out rather laboriously that it must be the national anthem for a royal birthday. What did you write about brain power and time lags?! Going back to the main point, after much effort I’ve decided that my musical ears never will return, so I’m reluctantly going to part with the piano. The same old repertoire is getting boring, I’ve no idea what new music sounds like … and I can never hear if I’ve made mistakes.
Hello Susan. I laughed out loud reading about the 1812 overture cymbals, and it’s fascinating that your implants replicate the problem with unknown music that I have with hearing aids. Many thanks. Vera.