I last talked about music not long after I had attended the session devoted to it at the Cochlear Implant Centre. As you might remember, I’d gone along with an open mind but also knowing that music wasn’t that important to me so I probably wasn’t going to be devoting myself to long hours of listening-to-music practice. What’s happened since?
I was right. Enthused as I was by the improvement in listening to my favourite Bridget St John CD in the car on the way home from the hospital, attempts at practicing petered out.
The first attempt involved digging out of our store cupboard a box of CDs, right at the back, which Nigel (mainly) has bought in the past and loves but didn’t want actually in play at the moment. He searched through and found half a dozen that he declared to be mine rather than his. Some I remembered. I recall having an Eva Cassidy phase and a Pulp phase but what was this – 50 Years of the Greatest Hit Singles??? It didn’t sound like me. To be fair it didn’t sound like Nigel either and he was more adamant about his non-ownership than I was. It turned out when I read the play list that he was indisputably right. With apologies to fans of Paul McCartney and Elton John, Nigel would NEVER EVER buy Mull of Kintyre or Candle in the Wind. Perhaps the CD had been a motorway service station impulse buy back in the days when I was driving a lot for work and needed distraction. Anyway, it was definitely mine.
I took my small pile out to the car. “Why the car?” you ask. That’s because we don’t have any equipment in the house for playing music. We have an iPod player in the bedroom which no longer works. That’s it. I could see why this situation had come about because, in recent years, any unnecessary noise in the house was anathema to me. The very idea of having music playing, or the radio, would give me the screaming heebie-jeebies. Everything but speech was banned.
Suddenly I felt very sorry for Nigel. “Hey love”, I said, “now that I could cope with it, how do you feel about being able to play music in the house again?” He looked at me, thought for a bit, and then declared that no, he really didn’t fancy it anymore. He can play music in the car when he wants to, and at the gym on his iPod, and that’s enough.
The next few times I was out in the car I experimented with my small CD collection, with limited success. Eva Cassidy’s voice was completely drowned out by the instrumentals. Pulp was fun but I needed to read the lyrics alongside the music to enjoy them, so only one to listen to whilst sitting in car parks, which felt a bit sad. Thinking back to the session at the Implant Centre I decided on a modest musical splurge. People there had said that they found the early Beatles a very good thing to start with (familiar – for those of a certain age – and simple) so I bought the Red Album (Beatles 1962 to 1966). I also bought Flying Pickets Greatest Hits, because I’d had such success with Only You.
They both worked fine. I could drive along listening to She Loves You, Please Please Me or the Pickets’ version of I Heard it on the Grapevine and hear them very comfortably. They sounded OK. Indeed they sounded quite good in places. Given enough listens they would undoubtedly sound as good as Bridget St John, where I now hear every syllable and most chords with complete clarity.
One day, though, I was driving along listening to You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away when I thought “I don’t want to do this”. I wanted to put the radio on (I’ve come to really, really love listening to the radio). So I did.
And that is when music practice came to a screeching halt. I have many interests in life but, as I’ve said before, listening to music isn’t one of them and has never been one of them. It seemed absurd to be contemplating spending a lot of time getting good at something I don’t much enjoy in the first place. A very wise person* once said “you can choose what you do but you can’t choose what you like to do”. It was time to stop, and be me.
I almost didn’t write this post in case people who love music and who were contemplating an implant were put off by my experiences. If you are one of them, please don’t be. I know people with implants who thoroughly enjoy music. They have practiced a lot and find that it sounds really good. There are several computer programmes** specifically devoted to helping people learn to follow lyrics, improve their pitch awareness, recognise musical intervals and lots of other things.
It can be done, it just wasn’t for me. I would also say that my ability to make sense of music now is no worse than it was before the implant, when my gradual hearing loss had already rendered it incomprehensible. I’ve not gained, in this regard, but I’ve not lost anything either.
A couple of weeks ago the Implant Centre asked if I would write something about my experiences that they could use to add flesh (a real human experience) to the dry statistics of speech-comprehension-before-and-after and the other numbers and percentages that their work produces. I was really happy to write a few sentences about the best things to have come out of the operation for me, so far. I finished up by saying “Thank you, NHS England, for giving me my life back.”
It seems to me that part of the implant rehab process is about deciding what your life actually is, and what it isn’t, and reclaiming the ability to do what YOU want.
PS If anyone wants a CD of the Red Album let me know and you can have it!
*Quoted by Gretchen Rubin in her book The Happiness Project
**Angel Sounds and Auralia from Rising Software are just two.
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