‘Rock singer’s hearing loss is an important moment for change’ by Stu Nunnery

Here is one of the many vital reasons why each and every one of us needs to look after and protect our hearing, written by Stu Nunnery for the Hearing Like Me blog.

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The lead singer of rock group AC/DC, Brian Johnson, was told recently by his doctors that he risked total hearing loss if he continued to tour and perform with the band. What seemed like an individual musician’s tragic heartbreak has turned into a cause célèbre and is resonating throughout the music industry. And that’s a good thing.

Specifically, Johnson was advised that if he continued to perform at large venues, he risked total deafness. He later told Rolling Stone magazine, “While I was horrified at the reality of the news that day, I had for a time become aware that my partial hearing loss was beginning to interfere with my performance on stage. I am not a quitter and I like to finish what I start, nevertheless, the doctors made it clear to me and my bandmates that I had no choice but to stop performing on stage for the remaining shows and possibly beyond.”

But many things have been said since then, that has brought into view a slew of issues that all musicians, those who listen to music, and those who attend concerts might keep in mind – for the “times, they are a changin’.”

Denials, disclaimers, accusations, medical claims, offers of help and proactive moves have flowed in as a response to the rock singer’s hearing loss predicament. There’s even been some fun thrown his way when it was satirically announced that AC/DC would “replace a singer who could not hear with a singer who could not sing.” (Axl Rose of Guns and Roses)

Later, in an interview with a friend, Johnson claimed that his hearing issues were being blown out of proportion and that he was being unfairly released by the band. Another doctor told him that his hearing damage wasn’t as bad as he was initially led to believe and that he can continue to record in studios and he intends to do that. But the band has said no more. Johnson remains hopeful.

There was also apparently more to the rock singer’s hearing loss story than originally divulged. In a 2014 interview with celebrity interviewer Howard Stern, Johnson dismissed the loud music and the use of cannons as stage props as the cause of his hearing loss. He said that he believed that it was the result of “sitting in a race car too long without earplugs. I heard me eardrum burst, because I forgot to put me plugs in under my helmet. That’s how it happened. Music had nothing to do with it.” When asked about the tinnitus he was experiencing, he told Stern, “Ah, you know, you forget about it after a week.”

What is clear from all this are several things. One, knowing the cause(s) of your hearing loss is important. It’s also important to have a professional diagnose your problem. Have you gotten additional opinions from specialists in the field? Whose opinion will you listen to? Additionally, what methods of treatment are being recommended? How do you know what treatments will work best for you and who should administer them? In short, what is the best strategy to avoid hearing loss and what is the best way to deal with the situation after experiencing hearing loss?

It’s not a simple thing and many musicians, myself included, have experienced their own catastrophic hearing losses at pivotal moments in their careers – whether from loud music, canons on stage, race cars,  or the sudden hearing losses that can appear from any number of maladies. I knew I was in trouble during a jingle recording session in 1978 when the hearing in my left ear started cutting out and I began losing correct pitch. It was a quick downhill from there. A year-and-a-half later I had to quit music altogether – with hearing loss in both ears and severe tinnitus. It happened not only at the worst possible time for my musical aspirations, but it was still the “dark ages” in hearing-music research and advances, and I had little help to guide me through the woods.

Today’s circumstances are far better and Johnson may have hope and the help he needs.

And fortunately for all of us, more influential musicians are being proactive to protect themselves and others from the effects of loud music. The band Pearl Jam has joined MusiCares to provide earplugs to all attendees of their upcoming tour. Foundations such as Hear the World also distributes earplugs at live music venues and festivals around the word.

“Don’t be careless and lazy at loud rock shows or cranking tunes through an old Walkman like I was thirty years ago,” said Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament in a statement. “Wear hearing protection or you’ll end up with a 1.5k ring in both ears every night when you go to bed or worse when you are trying to enjoy the serene quiet of an empty desert or forest, again like me.”

Producers and DJ’s who have long understood the benefits of ear protection are also becoming more forthcoming about their own strategies and are helping to identify the wide variety of hearing protection now available.

Out of Johnson’s tragedy may come some very important information we can all pay attention to. As we follow his story it would be a good thing to see ourselves in his position. You don’t have to be a rock star to suffer his fate or the confusion that often follows.

Stay tuned.

by Stu Nunnery.

‘Make The Most Of What You’ve Got’ by Martin Griffiths

At least three people have asked me what gig was I going to see and misheard my reply. I told them I was going to see ‘Wolf Alice’ and one said “Oh, wonder if he will play his didgeridoo?” and another said “Isn’t he in prison for being a dirty old man?”. “No, no, no, I am going to see Wolf Alice NOT Rolf Harris!” I think the number of hard of hearing people will be increasing soon.

I also constantly get asked how can I enjoy gigs as a profound deaf person with severe sight loss. Easy answer is I accept that I cannot hear or see the same as others do but if I prepare properly I will get some enjoyment from

a. Being out of the house

b. Being in a gig atmosphere watching crazy gig neighbours singing and dancing

c. Enjoying what I can hear or see and not stressing about my sensory losses.

Photo by Martin Griffiths

Photo by Martin Griffiths

My preparation for ‘From the Jam‘ at Barry Memo Arts on 26th  March 2016 started with contacting the band via their Facebook page and asking for a setlist. They duly obliged with a warning that on the night there may be late changes. They did appear to drop two songs but lesser known ones. This threw me a little but knowing the songs expected next helps me tune into the song via memory and what my hearing aids pick up.

Tip – if contacting bands via social media it is usually better to contact direct via private message as many bands are not keen to share setlists unless there is good reason.

Often I will search sites like Setlist FM ‘www.setlist.fm‘ for setlists from the latest tour of the band I am going to see. These lists are fan generated and accuracy can vary although I generally find them to be reliable.

Next step is to listen to the tracks via direct audio input to relearn the songs and also checking lyric sites and apps. This can help although often bands rearrange popular songs or do medleys which can be challenging.

Using apps like Soundhound and Musixmatch can help with identifying songs and discovering lyrics often in real-time. The apps may be more successful in linking with pre-recorded music. Live music tends to come with audience generated noises that confuse the apps.

Preparation done so now time to get the ticket and head to the gig. I hope for the best but still look to using my experience to increase the odds of a successful gig. I discovered that in small venues you often can put your hands on speaker stacks and pick up additional information through vibrations. Dont stand in front of the stacks as you may lose the little hearing you have left. I often stand to the side with arm outstretched to feel the music and I hear better.

It is also wise to play with hearing aid settings too. I often find having one hearing aid on the omnidirectional microphone setting and the other on unidirectional works best for me. At one gig someone threw liquid and I took the wet aid out and discovered having one aid out helped me pick up bass notes more easily. Different gigs and venues may require different combinations of hearing aid settings.

I never hear the banter between songs and often fail to hear a familiar song.Time to stay positive and pluck up courage to ask a neighbour what that song is!

Often I have to move about to find best sound spot and it helps to be close and get visual clues. I guessed we were starting Pretty Green just by watching the rhythm of the guitars and drums. I was in the front row so had some visual stimulus.

If I did not know the songs I may still enjoy the broad sound and guess what they might be singing. I know Eton Rifles very well but if I did not I might look at people singing along and think its Eating Trifles!

I tend not to sing along as for some reason doing this reduces what I can hear. I need to concentrate.

It’s not easy but I have to be positive. I sometimes have a beer and take part in some crazy ‘dancing’ but if I do I will lose some of the already reduced quality.

Gotta keep getting whatever enjoyment I can when I can. My sight and hearing reduce each year so there is no time to waste.

Positivity rules.

🙂

By Martin Griffiths.

Martin Griffiths

Mr Martin Griffiths

Pixel.

A beloved friend unusually wanted my attention and it turned out to be for this very impressive video which is titled “Pixel”.

As quoted from their page, “Pixel is a dance show for 11 dancers in a virtual and living visual environment. A work on illusion combining energy and poetry, fiction and technical achievement, hip hop and circus. A show at the crossroads of arts and at the crossroads of Adrien M / Claire B’s and Mourad Merzouki’s universes.”

An exceptional visual experience with elements of surprise! Naturally, we just had to share it with you too because we enjoyed it so.

Source of Video.

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

Seasonal Greetings.

Once again it is that time of the year to send seasonal greetings so here I am, wishing to send mine to each and every one of you albeit with a little character – Tis healthy to be true to thyself 😉

Some additional exemplary (inclusive) videos for you to cherish – please enjoy.

Dorothy Miles’ poem – “Christmas Presents” by Ramon Woolfe

and “Silent Night” by the beautiful Nadia Nadarajah, Ruth Montgomery and her father.

And last but not least, a little humour that one of our admins, Andrew, shared:

One of the Caliphs was a little bit deaf..

“One of the Caliphs was a little bit deaf…”

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

 

Royal College of Music Film Orchestra

On 6th November, a group of Tree House members went along to watch the Royal College of Music’s (RCM) Film Orchestra play a concert in aid of Help the Heroes. The theme was film music from war-themed films, such as Lawrence of Arabia and Out of Africa.

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Photo by Sara Jae

 

One of the misconceptions about deaf and hard of hearing people is that we don’t enjoy music – or can’t appreciate music in the same way as hearing people can. However, as with various other things in life, people have their own relationships with the arts and culture – and music is no exception. My perception and appreciation of music is not the same as another deaf person’s – we all experience music in our own different ways. And just as some enjoy music, others don’t – a personal preference.

For example, my family has always enjoyed music – some of my parents’ stories about the 60s and 70s have me green with envy – seeing the Rolling Stones and Beatles live, going to the Dorothy in Cambridge for nights full of good music and dancing. When my sister and I were young, our parents and grandparents used to take us along to open air concerts with fireworks at the end, and without fail they would usually end the evening with John Williams’s Star Wars suite. I have fond memories of sitting on a blanket, full of expectation and awe at the fireworks and the stirring orchestral score. I even used the A New Hope theme as my wedding march…

My relationship with music is complicated, one that I have returned to many times in blog posts and articles. In the simplest terms, with music that has lyrics, I tend to hear the melody, bass line and voice but the words are not clear. I rely on reading lyrics – for example, using Spotify with MusicXmatch for the lyrics in time with the song, Youtube videos or looking up lyrics and listening closely to a song I want to get to know a number of times. I also have strong auditory memories of music that I listened to as a child and teenager, but this hasn’t stopped me listening and ‘learning’ new songs and music. In this case, level of hearing is irrelevant because everyone has a different reaction and preference. I’m profoundly deaf, and in another life, perhaps I wouldn’t have as strong a connection with music.

The Royal College of Music Film Orchestra was stunning. We sat at the front where we could see the conductor Richard Miller, hard at work with his graceful swoops and cues – some of us found it mesmerising. It was amazing to sit where we could feel the passion and energy rolling from the stage – where we could see the expressions of the musicians and feel the vibrations from the deeper instruments. It was an experience that fully immersed us into the world of music, both sight and sound. Some of the emotions evoked made some of us come out in goosebumps. The programme included scores from films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, and Schindler’s List – not to mention one of my favourite anime films, Grave of the Fireflies. There was a surprise performance, at the end, with ‘Dambusters’.

I felt that for the uninitiated, film music is a good way into listening to and appreciating orchestral music – it isn’t as inaccessible as it seems at first glance. In the past I have been afraid to listen to orchestral music because of the high notes and the quieter notes that I might not be able to pick up. However, in recent years I have been more open to listening to orchestral music via Spotify, and discovering powerful music with a theme. Film scores fit this category because they evoke the atmosphere and mood of a film, telling a story. In the end, I love a good story, and good music tells a story and evokes emotion – or just makes you want to dance (!)

So choosing to go to an orchestral performance is a new thing for me and some of the Tree House members that attended. It made me realise just how powerful it is to see a concert in person as opposed to the disconnect you might feel from just listening to music without being there. You miss the visual impact and the energy. I’m looking forwards to going to the next concerts with the Royal College of Music’s Film Orchestra – I can only hope for the Star Wars score next time…

Lizzie Ward-Mclaughlan

Reflections upon the background of a deaf drummer by Andrew Arthur

Deaf people and music. Yes it does sound rather like a contradiction in terms, but only if you assume that deaf people have no hearing at all. In fact the great majority of deaf people do have some hearing and very much enjoy music. Just as there are some hearing people who are not turned on by music, so there are also deaf people who are the same. There are an unfortunate few who don’t get anything at all from music, but equally there are hearing people who are just the same.

So the conclusion I come to is that it doesn’t matter whether you are deaf or not, you can still have a lot of fun with music. because music IS fun. It was always meant to be something that people could share whether it was signal drumming or a group sing song. Even the most remote and primitive tribes on the planet have their own forms of music. Music is something that people do.

When I was at school some music was included in the curriculum. For example we sang hymns every morning. There was a piano in the school hall which was linked to the PA system on the stage and there were additional microphones on the stage so that teachers could lead the singing. So OK it was a deaf school, not so much singing as bellowing for most. We would also have communal sing songs, frequently on Saturday morning during bad weather when it was too rough to go out. Everyone was expected to attend and take part regardless of hearing loss. I’m sure this created many music lovers and probably a few haters!

My father had a musical past, he was a good violin player and had played in dance bands before WW2. I still have his violin but I’m afraid I can’t play for toffee. The reason for this is that my hearing isn’t acute enough to be able to tell when I am out of tune. A violin does not have frets to tell you where to put your fingers and so violin players learn to correct their tuning as they go. Some players do this instinctively like my father and he couldn’t understand why I can’t even play Three Blind Mice in tune. In those days parents were not given much information about deafness and he just assumed that trying to teach me music was a waste of time. I was never able to persuade him to let me have music lessons and so the little bit of music I know I have had to pick up by myself.

One day I found a large pile of old fashioned 78 rpm records in a cupboard and I decided to just play them and see what I liked. So I just worked my way through this big pile of brittle records that apparently had been in the cupboard since before the war. Back then gramophones had replaceable needles and I wore out dozens! I played every record to see if I liked it, there were classics  … Beethoven, Holst, Rossini, Mozart. The longer of these pieces came on several records, you had to change the record several times to cover the whole piece. The Planets Symphony was like that, it came on about ten records. And there was one missing!
Back then, radio was very popular. People would sit for hours listening to the radio, many comedians made their name on radio shows long before there was TV but as I couldn’t understand a word of the radio it meant nothing to me. I used to get quite bored as all the hearings would be sitting around listening to this incomprehensible machine leaving me with nothing to do. That’s how I became a bookworm. I used to read books about music, how it is constructed, how people came to write music, how to read music. I picked up all sorts of interesting bits and pieces about musicians and composers. Beethoven was deaf. I found that very encouraging. If he could do it, why not me?

In fact being deaf got to Beethoven, this is not widely known. He was a pretty tortured man at times, trying to get the music in his head down in some comprehensible form that others could play. He had the legs taken off his piano and it was set flat on a wooden floor so that he could hear and feel it. He was a bit of a drug addict, it was common for medicines to contain opiates and quite a few people enjoyed their regular doses of medicine. So you can get the message that he was a troubled, deaf musician. In the light of modern information about deafness, no surprises there.

Unbelievably I learned to sing from an opera singer. She was the daughter of the headmistress of my primary school and she was also a well known opera singer. She would often sing on the radio and she was in stage productions all the time. She had a practice room in the school and she would be in there every day, doing scales, practice pieces and generally rehearsing. She would also give us children lessons in singing. At the age of 5 I could sing a tonic sol-fa and I was able to do that right up until my hearing level dropped to the point where I could no longer sing. I was about 14. I still can’t sing for toffee and yet I was in the MHGS choir at one time!

The MHGS choir was purely a show piece and was run by a teacher called Mr Thomas. There were about 15 of us altogether and we would practice in the lunch hour and after school and sometimes we would sing to the rest of the school during morning assembly. Incidentally you were not asked, you were told. You’re in the choir. Oh thanks. We would give performances on Open Day, Speech Day, Christmas time and so on. I quite enjoyed it and it was seriously romantic to sing carols in the panelled hall of the Manor House, all done up with decorations and holly.

When I left school I discovered rock bands. My cousin got married and the reception was upstairs in a pub. Downstairs there was a dance hall and there was a band playing. I could feel the floor shaking. I had never seen a rock band before so I went downstairs and into the hall and there I encountered my first ever live band. I was absolutely awestruck. This was totally different to the classical music I was brought up with. It blew Mozart away that was for sure and from that day onwards I have been a rock/blues fan.

I found that a pub nearby had rock bands playing every Sunday night and so I hung out there every week. Strangely enough a number of people played there who are very well known now but back then were just making their way. Mick Jagger. Status Quo under their brand new name. But back then they were just guys in the pub. A year or so later I moved to Cornwall with my parents and met the same guys all over again in the Headlands Club at Bude. They used to book London bands and as it happened we had a number of people who are now world famous. How about that? Of course I lapped it up and not being very interested in guitars I decided I wanted to be a drummer.

Eventually I got my hands on a drum kit, a little beat up old thing that had belonged to one of the bands I knew and over the years I had a lot of fun (and a lot of complaints) learning to play it. Finally I got the hang of it after many trials and tribulations, mainly by copying other drummers I have seen. Never had a drum lesson in me life. I got together with some other guys and we formed a band, we would practice in the back room of a pub. Sometimes other musicians would turn up and join in, on occasions we had a regular concert going in there. I played a lot of blues, I remember and I am still a big blues fan.

After a couple of years playing in pubs I regretfully left the band, like many amateur musicians I found there were just not enough hours in the day to be a worker, a dad, a husband and a drummer on top. A lot of players have to make this choice. A fair number of marriages have broken up over it. I still play the drums regularly and since I retired there have been many more opportunities to practice and improve, so I have been working on that over the years. I must say it has been a bit of a struggle because I had no idea what I was supposed to sound like.

A few years ago one of my insurance policies matured and I decided to indulge myself. I bought a proper professional drum kit on Ebay. This is a Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute. It cost an arm and a leg and since then I have added bits until it has threatened to take over the whole room so I had to stop. I do have my eye on an extra bass drum though. I try to play for an hour a day but it doesn’t often work out like that. As I am not currently in a band I am just drifting along, keeping my hand in.

Things have got easier post CI. I can hear the kit better and I am able to use the direct connection lead to hook into an electronic metronome. This is a really handy gadget and I couldn’t use a metronome before, because I could not hear it, but now I can and it has improved my playing a lot. Also I can hear the drums better and I am able to produce a more even sound. It’s a challenge to get it right. Currently I am working on playing in the style of various well known drummers, they all have distinctive beats and by playing bits of other people styles I will eventually arrive at one of my own.

One of the best things ever has been You Tube. There is every bit of music ever played on there, it’s a quite amazing repository of music and I use it almost every day. As a record player, as a learning tool or just for fun. My playing has definitely improved, it doesn’t do any harm when the world’s best drummers go online to teach their skills! But above all as drummer Chad Smith says… the object is to HAVE FUN! To quote Bill and Ted in their Excellent Adventure : Woah dude! That’s awesome!