When the Christmas Music Changes

I adore Christmas, especially the tingle-inducing music.  But this holiday season, I’m wondering—when did I lose the ability to sing it?  (Some in my family would tell you that I never had that ability, but they’re such kidders. They know I can sing well—if I manage to stay on key.)

Growing up, I sang in Christmas choirs (being flanked fore and aft and side by side by other singers helped keep me on key) at school and in church. My family sang Christmas carols in the car, belting out Joy to the World in harmony, more or less.

But it’s not easy anymore. When surrounded by other singers, I have trouble hearing myself and it shuts me down. But music made by other people still thrills—especially familiar music played at a reasonable volume, and if it’s a single voice not drowned out by an orchestra. When I’m home in my own house, I sing because there’s no one to wince if I’m off-key; our cats don’t recognize bad singing from good and my husband loves me too much to complain. But at Christmas time, music is meant to be shared, to be sung together so if I’m in a group, I just kind of move my lips and let little sounds out, audible and felt only to me.choir

Recently, Bonnie Stone, a primary school teacher and my Facebook Friend, wrote a heartfelt blog on this same subject.  I am sharing excerpts with her permission:

Tonight, the elementary school where I teach had a Christmas caroling event that I was planning to attend. It would have been the first time for me to carol since I lost my hearing suddenly three years ago. 

I chickened out.

I’m afraid of music. It’s true. If this had been a dinner or a play or a discussion of the complexities of the Pythagorean Theorem, it would have been much easier. But it was music and singing. And that is much, much scarier.

I’m considered a high-functioning cochlear implant recipient. I hear and comprehend speech and conversation very well in most settings. But music eludes me. It’s my bête noire – the beast I have yet to conquer. I have focused on music rehabilitation for the last year, attempting to make my cochlear implant work for hearing music. My audiologist tells me that many of her patients complain that music is elusive to them as well.

When a person loses their hearing, many other things are lost along the way. It’s difficult to describe the impact that hearing loss has on our lives to those who’ve never experienced it. One of the things I was warned to watch for is the withdrawal from things I once enjoyed. There was a day when I would have loved caroling with friends and colleagues. But not today.

So I sit here on my living room sofa trying to rationalize my guilt. I know I succumbed to my fear of music and pitchy melodies and harmonies too far out of my decibel range to hear. And I stayed home. My self-speak chastises me with “should haves” and “could haves.” I should have shrugged off my fears and insecurities and gone caroling anyway. I could have tried. I could have taken my cochlear implant off, shutting off the “noise” of the songs, and smiled my way through the silence. But I didn’t.

Music is a very, very, scary thing.

I understand Bonnie’s feelings. At this time of year, emotions run high. It really hurts when we can no longer enjoy the music, the dinner parties and the conversation the way we used to. But when we avoid certain situations that are too loud, too challenging—is that wrong? Life with hearing loss is challenging, it changes our social situations. So we have two choices: we can avoid them—or adapt to them.

When Bonnie hit that caroling ‘wall’, she sat and thought about her decision to stay home. I suspect—I don’t know for sure—but I hope that she will find her way through to enjoying music for the rest of this season. There are ways to do it. A few days ago, I watched the Michael Bublé Christmas special on TV and the closed captioning made the music understandable. I watched a video clip of Kelly Clarkson singing “Silent Night” with Reba McIntyre and Trisha Yearwood and their exquisite harmony almost made a country music fan out of me. I don’t know why they have to hold those big mikes in front of their mouths—an extra challenge for speechreaders—but as I already knew the words, I enjoyed the beauty of the music.

I’m having a big family Christmas party next week. I won’t hear the background music, but I’ll enjoy spending time with the family and when they all go home, I’ll belt out Joy to the World—and my son and husband will just have to listen.


Ornament photo courtesy of zazzle.com

Youth choir photo courtesy of Islington United Church

New!  My colleagues at HearingHealthMatters.org write blogs of interests to people with hearing loss. Each week I am going to provide links to two posts that I find of particular interest.  This week, may I recommend:

Touchable Music – by Marshall Chasin

Language and Math – by Jane Madell



About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.