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On October 20th I attended a music workshop for cochlear implantees, BAHA wearers and hearing aid users run by Richard Reed, himself a CI user, in London. My CI buddy Karen M also went to the same workshop in Scotland, so this time I’m posting reviews by both of us.

The idea behind this dual review is that we each have different hearing histories and different makes of CI but both came away inspired and encouraged. From the feedback I heard from the BAHA wearers, they too enjoyed it. I’m a firm believer in grabbing life with both grubby little chocolate-smeared paws, as the Bear often remarks, so I’d like to encourage other people to take advantage of these opportunities as and when they arise.

First of all I was pleased with the acoustics in the room booked at London’s H10 Hotel near Waterloo – I’ve learned from experience that the infinite variability of venue acoustics can be very challenging, so it was a good start that they considered this aspect of the talk. Acoustics are often overlooked, but anything that maximises the clarity of sound has to make life just that little bit easier.

Richard Reed was an engaging speaker who introduced himself, his hearing loss, his cochlear implant journey and his odyssey to regain music in an informal and empathetic style, complete with sound effects, flourishes and trills. There was a triple purpose in these little musical embroideries: not only were they entertaining, but they also provided a variety of listening experiences and helped convey emotion – doom-laden, upbeat, and so on. The emotional aspect is vital in music comprehension, and, judging from Richard’s own comments, and those of people at the question-and-answer session afterwards, the ability to connect emotionally to music is a huge part of enjoyment, and that’s why a gap opens up when it no longer sounds as it used to.

So Richard provided a variety of hooks to get us into the music in different ways, which I thought was excellent for people who had had little or no prior enjoyment of music (like me) as well as those who had and wanted to re-enter that world. Richard deconstructed music into its component parts – the building blocks of the notes and instruments, showing us how things change by note, timbre of the instrument, and the parts of the melody. By exploding it all out like that, with accompanying visuals, he enabled us to put it all together again and start to understand what’s going on. For people who previously had hearing, I think it is very useful to be able to go back to basics and relearn things in a different way.

I found the session a great confidence-booster. For example, I realised that I knew more than I had thought. He played four identical notes to illustrate how robotic sounds appeared on initial activation – something we could all relate to – but it was a revelation that they all sounded identical to me, and from that point on I started listening out for the differences in the other musical effects he played.

How has it changed me? Well, first of all I’ve been listening to the complimentary copy of HOPE notes given away by Cochlear and in going through the exercises I’ve found that I’m starting to discern more about notes, melody, mood, and style – that mysterious combination that makes up a musical composition. Secondly, it’s given more depth to my understanding and thus enjoyment of music I already listen to, and encouraged me to try new things.

Below is the review Karen M kindly wrote of the same workshop a week previously:

A combination of curiosity and an excuse to have a day out with my friend Sooz, a fellow cochlear implant user, saw me at the Education Centre at Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock Ayrshire to attend the American Richard Reed’s music workshop. Ultimately it was a good decision and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the 2-hour session. I have never been musical or played an instrument and apart from my teenage years when I frequented the local discos, music has not been an important facet in my life. As my hearing deteriorated over the years I used to switch off the radio, CD player and asked for background music to be turned off or down as it was just a noise dampening out what was more important to me – speech.

     In the first half of his talk Richard gave an account of his personal story. He is a professional musician who lost his hearing 10 years ago and received a cochlear implant. Richard was easy to listen to as he cleverly told his story with the use of an attractive PowerPoint presentation with key statements – extremely helpful for a deaf audience. Simultaneously he used his keyboard when telling his anecdotes about his hearing journey e.g. playing keys to poignantly demonstrate what he heard when he lost his hearing, the electronic beeps when activated, the first environmental sounds he recognised and the syllables, which led to the recognition of words. It was actually very emotional listening to someone recounting actually what I went through but in a novel way. He showed how initially he was so disappointed with what he was hearing when listening to music with his CI, something I could relate very much to. I did not listen to music for several months because it sounded so horrible.

      Richard then proceeded to show how with the help of certain types of music, instruments and material he has regained his appreciation of music. He recommended listen to solo instruments to start off with and to listen to new music and songs rather than old or familiar songs.  He advocated listening to live music. He prefers acoustic music rather than electronic. With the support of Cochlear Europe Richard has devised a DVD and CD, which uses the methodologies to help improve music perception and appreciation. Richard played some music from the package e.g. Little Star Blues – a new version of Twinkle Twinkle. It uses the same nursery rhymes lyrics but with different chords – set against a minor key Blues. He played Canciones en Espanol a Spanish song sung with an acoustic guitar and cello. Many CI users complain that they cannot  understand the words when listening to a song. This song was used as an example that there are some songs out there that CI users can actually hear the lyrics.  During one song thankfully played in English I shut my eyes and I could hear most of the words without looking at the screen ! I felt a great sense of achievement. Richard also suggested experimenting with different programmes in our CI processors.

     Each participant was given a complimentary copy of the HOPE notes package. There was a mixture of different CI brand users in the audience. It was a thoroughly enjoyable workshop and I left inspired to work on my music perception and appreciation of music, areas I have somewhat neglected during my hearing journey.

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Very many thanks to Karen for her excellent review and to Cochlear for bringing this workshop to Crosshouse, Nottingham, and London. I think one of the things that I also enjoyed the most was meeting other people with similar aspirations sharing our experiences, so I hope this dual review helps replicate that experience for others, and shows the CI companies that the demand is out there.

I hope our experiences encourage others to make use of whatever they can to help build up their enjoyment of music. There are resources put out there by the CI companies – do go if your hospital or CI network suggests one to you. (See review of the Farmer’s Cheese by Med-El here.) You might like to go along to a performance signed by Music and the Deaf – see review of a sign-interpreted Prom here.)

Perhaps going along to a signed or subtitled musical may help you connect better with the music if you can understand the words and see the context of the music – and thanks to the sterling work of SignedPerformances in Theatre (SPIT) and Stagetext – both are possible and I’ve enjoyed quite a few such performances, also integrated performances by Graeae. Each one of these organisations has improved my access to music as part of performance both pre- and post-CI.

Perhaps dance may be more your thing with ballet being, I think, extremely accessible – a play moved along without words, the dancing conveying the atmospheric content of the music. Both Karen and I are ballet fans, and I know many other deaf people also thoroughly enjoy the visual treat of ballet.

After this I’m going to resume the Course in Hearing Language with Part III: Music, to talk about other things I’ve found helpful.

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