I’m a musician!
This is an affliction that I’ve had for almost 50 years. It doesn’t really matter which instrument, or what kind of group. The only thing that matters is finding an outlet through which I can participate in making music!
My plan throughout much of my adult life had been to work in an engineering field to earn adequate money to support my family as the kids were growing to adulthood. When that had been accomplished, I intended to leave engineering behind and pursue, once again, a career in the field of music. All that was fine & good, and seemed a great plan until a few years ago, when I discovered that I was going deaf!
This was a most disconcerting development for someone intending to use his ears, fingers and voice to earn a living! At first (around 2001), it didn’t seem like a big deal, just little drop in the high frequency sensitivity. I figured it must be from standing next to the drummer’s ride cymbal for all those years. There was no need for hearing aids yet, so I started to wear musician’s ear plugs. Acoustically, they were very transparent and there were replaceable cartridges available with attenuation from 5db to about 50db. The only difficulty with the ear plugs, was that they made my voice very loud in my head when I sang. Fortunately, the band that I was in at the time did not require me to do any singing.
Over the past decade, things have gone downhill significantly! My mild hearing loss has progressed to a profound hearing loss. Currently, near Middle C, my hearing is down about 20dB. At the Treble C, it is -30dB and near High C, -75dB. My hearing sort of levels off at -95dB around 1500 Hz (G, one octave above the treble staff), and continues at that level all the way to the top of the spectrum that the audiologist measures. I currently wear a pair of rather powerful hearing aids to help me function in a world that largely depends upon sound for communication.
Normal human hearing, in terms of frequency, runs from the low teens up to around 20,000 Hz. However, the fundamental frequency of the pitches that our instruments play are well below the top end of the audio spectrum. For example, the highest note on a standard 88 key piano is just a shade below 4200 Hz, but we do gather much useful information (such as tuning, timbre, etc. . . ) from the higher, harmonic content of each note. I can hear enough of the harmonic content to determine pitches up to about the A above the treble staff. Higher than that, all the notes sound the same because I can’t hear enough of the higher harmonics. Luckily, saxophone, bass clarinet, my baritone voice and my bass guitar are low enough that I can function with a good monitor and my hearing aids boosting the high frequencies.
Because of my loss of pitch sensitivity in the higher registers, I gave up teaching flute about five years ago. Currently, I teach all levels of bass guitar, bass clarinet, tenor sax, alto sax and ukulele, but only beginner to intermediate clarinet, because I can’t discern pitches above the clarion register. I generally avoid soprano sax for the same reason.
It just seems so unfair that, now that I have the time & wherewithal to once again pursue a music career, my ears are failing me. I had really hoped to be performing through my seventies. The way my hearing has been deteriorating recently, I’ll be surprised if I’m still performing in two years!
My ENT doctor says that he can fix me up with a cochlear implant and I will be able to understand conversations again. He’s not so positive about the music thing, but I’ve heard from a number of musicians that say they’ve been able to work since the implant. It just appears that it takes time and patience to relearn pitch sensitivity with a brand new set of signals. Besides, they only do one ear and wait until you are ready to do the other. So I can always shut off the implant and perform the way I have been recently, with the hearing aid and monitor. The thoughts and emotions involved in deciding to give up what remains of my natural hearing and go to a cochlear implant is a topic for a whole ‘nother post!
Do the words, “Bionic” and “Borg” pop into your head too?
The whole thing puts me to mind of the old “Six Million Dollar Man” T.V. show. Remember the opening credits, when the character, Oscar Goldman intones off-camera, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better…stronger…faster”. Would “perfect pitch” be too much to ask?