One Musician’s Journey with Hearing Loss

One Musician's Journey with Hearing Loss

The problems musicians face with losing their hearing are all too familiar. It comes as no surprise that those who play loud rock music through punishing amplification would suffer damage over the years. The list of rock musicians who lose their hearing grows every day, and the cases of famous musicians can be devastating to their fans. Lesser-known rock musicians face the same struggle as the years go by. Many continue to battle hearing loss while playing the music they love, while others may give up music all together.

Musicians and Hearing Loss

Although these stories of rock musicians may be unsurprising to some, one musician’s battle with hearing loss comes from an unexpected genre: classical music. An April 17, 2018 profile on the WBUR radio program “Here and Now” by Peter O’Dowd featured classical violist Betty Hauck (http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/04/17/classical-musicians-hearing-loss). She had developed a long resume of classical performances, including playing at the White House for the Kennedys, in a chamber ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma, and touring around the world. An exceptional violist like Betty spent countless hours listening to music, even if it was seldom as loud as the music played by her rock ‘n’ roll counterparts. Her music-related hearing loss took her by surprise as much as readers of the profile.

Hearing loss can develop as part of the natural process of aging, but Betty Hauck’s case was different. Through long rehearsals, teaching lessons, and regular performances, her hearing was slowly inundated with sounds across the frequency range. Those who perform loud music can seldom endure it for the extended periods that performers of classical music might do. In addition, holding the viola close to the ears sends powerful frequencies in the same range directly to the ears for hours on end. Though she didn’t expect it, Betty found herself unable to properly hear her own music at a performance. A Bach cantata at Emmanuel Church in Boston was the breaking point for Betty’s hearing. She was unable to follow along with the music and decided that she didn’t want to force her collaborators to confront her waning hearing ability. She quit on the spot.

At first, Betty was seriously depressed by the reality that she could no longer pursue her lifelong passion. She experienced the loss as a process of grief, and she set down her viola altogether for three years. As a way to cope, she took a Buddhist approach to the experience, treating it as a neutral event. She tried to consider it neither good nor bad, simply an experience of life to observe and accept. After her long hiatus from performing, she reemerged with an approach to music. Rather than performing in the style to which she had become accustomed, she decided to meet with an auditory trainer. Through this connection, she met others who experienced hearing loss. She decided to perform for audiences with hearing impairment in churches and retirement homes. Though she found sweetness and joy as a musician with hearing loss, her story sheds light on a plight facing all too many musicians, now or in the future.

Hearing Protection Could Help Prevent Hearing Loss

Hearing protection is important for all whose work or leisure exposes them to repeated powerful sound. Musicians who use amplification can preserve their hearing into the future through hearing protection. An auditory specialist can even design custom hearing protection that sits in the crevices of the outer ear, reducing the loudness of sound during rehearsals and concerts. Yet, another possibility exists, as well. Assistive technology can bring a range of hearing back to life even after it has disappeared from the ear. Hearing aids and other technology have advanced so far that they can be used during rehearsals and performances to incredible effect. Though they do not restore the ability to hear to an unassisted ear, they can amplify and replicate sound in amazingly sharp and precise ways. Musicians who have not experienced hearing loss can protect their ears from damage, but even those who have already experienced hearing loss can bring them to life in remarkable ways through assistive technology.

Visit Us at South Shore Hearing Center

If you or someone you love has hearing impairment that affects the ability to participate in their beloved work or leisure activities, the road to rejoining those activities begins with a visit with us at South Shore Hearing Center. Our team provides comprehensive services to treat hearing loss.