As a hearing aid user, I want to enjoy music the way other people do – clearly and on demand. Whom should I ask about this – my audiologist, a hearing aid manufacturer, or the government who helps me pay for hearing aids? All three, maybe?
As my hearing loss progressed through the years, so did my music loss. and I would like to have it back, please. I know the technology is out there because I’m always reading tantalizing news bytes about breakthroughs in this area. But how do I, the consumer at the end of the supply chain, access all these new advancements? The information on research and new technology is usually written at a high level, outside my comprehension. How about something phrased more simply, from a reputable source such as: “Want hearing aids to let you hear the music again? There’s an app for that! To get your magic-music-making hearing aids, visit your local hearing care professional and say ‘I want the music back!’”
Like most people, I love music. Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” And once you have flown on the music, losing the ability to enjoy it can be a deep source of grief. When I can really hear it, music still sends shivers up my spine. But I frequently have difficulty getting a tune, or hanging on to the violins or flutes that soar off my audiogram. I feel deprived, cheated.
My family was very musical – I am the descendant of song-and-dance men on one side and church-singing preachers and teachers on the other. There was always music in our house. My father bought the best stereo ‘hi-fi’ he could afford because he wanted me to enjoy music in spite of my hearing difficulties. I would spend hours lying on the floor with my ear pressed to the cloth-fronted stereo, listening to records. On family road trips, in a time before everybody was glued to their own smartphone, we sang and harmonized. Our collective taste in music wasn’t terribly cerebral, but we loved a good tune.
I’ve always known I don’t experience music the way ‘hearing’ people do. At a performance of Handel’s Messiah when I was in my teens, someone said, “Wow, that harpsichord is amazing!” I saw the beautiful harpsichord on the stage, but could not pick out its unique sound. And I have never heard the sound produced by musicians hitting that triangle thing; with all due respect, professional triangle players just look kinda-stupid up there with the rest of the musicians (maybe that’s why they’re at the back.)
Things got worse when, at age 41, I graduated from a single behind-the-ear to bilateral completely-in-the-canal hearing aids. At a dance, the cacophonous sound of the band almost flattened me. I thought maybe I was still in an extended period of brain adjustment, but even now music produced by more than one instrument at a time often becomes noisy music soup. It’s difficult to pick out the different bits – like the keyboard, or the bass guitar, or really any specific instrument. Even the singer’s voice is swallowed up by the instruments, taking lyrics completely out of my reach. Ambient music at a party is often wasted on me. If someone asks if the background music is too loud, I usually answer, “Oh, is it on?” If music were played at the level that I need to enjoy it – somewhere well above ambiance-level but below blowing out the windows – the party would be very different and I still might not ‘get’ the words if I didn’t already know them.
But things have come a long way for music lovers with hearing loss. I now have digital in-the-ear hearing aids with T-switches (that I had to ask for) and things are better. I think. But for the best sound, I have to bring music right into my ears. With my Bose over-the ear-headphones positioned just-so, there is no hearing aid feedback. On walks, I use a neckloop-iPod combo, avoiding overhead telephone wires, which make my head vibrate with static. Last year at a hearing loss conference concert, I sat next to a friend, a recent CI recipient, and watched her face as she heard and enjoyed live music for the first time since becoming deaf years ago. And at Christmas time, the look on the face of another friend (who hadn’t known she could connect her CI directly to her iPod), as Silent Night came into her ears, was enough to revive your belief in Santa Claus.
But I know that there is more live music-pleasure available to me and I”m asking: how can I get it back now? There are good music programs available for hearing aids, but do I have to buy a new set? If so, that would be a shame, because buying new hearing aids is an expensive step for those salivating to hear what innovation is offering. If I didn’t have to wait two years to qualify for the government hearing aid subsidy, I would buy another set faster than you can say name that tune.