What can I hear?
I get asked this a lot, especially when I just come out of a public performance or meeting new people, or even by stating that “I’m Deaf”. Some people are very hesitance asking questions about it, as they don’t want to offend me. I personally don’t get offended when people ask about my hearing, I quite enjoy it. It’s an opportunity to educate the meaning of “Deaf”. The best thing is, People ask because they care.
But please note; Some people are okay being asked about their hearing like myself, But others may not. It’s like being asked, “Oh, how did you lose that weight?” It is personal and entirely up to the person if they want to share or not.
To understand what I can hear, you’ll need to know about the level of hearing I have.
I was born deaf, my hearing was in the moderate hearing loss range.
Now it’s in ‘moderately to severe hearing loss’.
I lost a bit of hearing when I was a toddler due to constant ear infections, but its been stable since then.
During my master’s degree in 2017, I researched based on performing music with a variety of hearing, and because of this, I looked into the details of my hearing and how I was different to “normal” hearing.
This what I wrote in my thesis:
“… shows that my lower frequency is best at 250hz (Concert B, below the stave), and the area of my worst pitch is 1000-2000hz (Concert B, above the stave), which shows it needs to be 75dB before I could acknowledge it. With the Bernafon hearing aids, my hearing increases to the mild hearing loss range. The best frequency is 500hz, which I have found interferes with the dynamics of my trumpet playing. In one of the lessons with XXXXXXXXXX, as I played an ascending scale my dynamic changed, even though I heard the same consistent dynamic throughout the exercise.”
My hearing in the low range is just below the normal hearing. But then, increasing up the frequency (pitch) I need the volume to be louder to hear it. It then changes from the high-frequency range. The hearing test result looks like a shape of a skating ramp, as seen below.
Unless it was pouring rain, I could barely hear it. So, every time I walk out the door; it’s a surprise.
“Oh, it’s been raining!?” – Carmen Robertson, every time it rains.
With regards to fire alarms, things can become interesting and even dangerous. When I’m at home, I don’t wear my hearing aids, and because it’s such a high pitch, I don’t hear it. In the past, I had the fire alarm set outside of my bedroom and there been a few times where it’s gone off cheering someone burnt food, and I’ve slept through it.
Some other things like cat purr, tree rustling, birds chirping outside my room, newer car engine, clock ticking, water tap dripping, fridge humming – all of these things are things I don’t generally hear. An exception can be made if I either put my ear next to it, or the items are just louder than average.
The biggest challenge in my hearing loss is speech. For example, I can’t hear the difference between three and free, but I know the mouth shape is different. Words that has CH, P, H, K, TH, F, S and SH, I cannot hear it in the spoken words.
Let’s take, for example, the sentence:
“So, when you’re talking, this is what I hear.”
“o, wen you’r taling, tis is I wat I ea”
You can draw the comparison yourself.
Over the years my brain has learnt how to take the information of spoken words, apply the context, and the tone it’s set in, and it fill in the blanks. My brain is always doing puzzles and depending on the social situation, it can take me an instant – or a few seconds to work out what was just said. The cool thing about this is the fact that I don’t have to think about it, It just happens automatically. This is something that I have grown up with, therefore it’s normal for me.
In a noisier environment, it gets harder. Especially in a group setting, when we’re all talking and discussing something. By the time someone has finished speaking, my brain is still working out what was said, and by the time I understand what’s going on, someone else has taken over the conversation, and so the brain has to take that in and work out what’s was said there too. Thus, the pattern continues. By the end of the day when I’m tired, I tend to zone out after a while as it becomes too much work for me.
I do lip read, but I don’t rely heavily on that. I do need people to face me when they are talking. Otherwise, I’ll miss information and won’t have an idea of what was said.
For example, when I was in high school, I was at the music centre, and my music teacher greeted me as he entered the building. He then continued to talk while walking past, and most of the things he said projected away from me, and I had no clue what he said (only something about music boxes). As he exited the building, I stood there, then started to look around at the music box, trying to work out what was going on. The next thing I see is the music teacher coming back with music boxes stacked on each other, struggling to open the door. He walked back in and said:
“Why didn’t you come and help?”
“You wanted help?
” Yeah, I said can you help me get the music boxes from the car.”
“Ohhh, yeah I didn’t hear that..”
So, moral of the story. If I didn’t respond to what you said, chances are, I didn’t hear you.
The challenges I found in the musical setting are mainly communication. But, I have found that I struggle to hear the different timbre of the said instrument. So, if someone were to play a bright or dark sound on the trumpet, I can’t hear the difference. But ask me to play with more air or crispy air, and the certain timbre will come out.
The higher I play on the trumpet, the dynamic changes for me, even if I’m playing at a consistent level. So from C in the stave to up a double octave, the dynamic decreases and it’s harder for me to hear what I’m playing, especially in a band setting. When I do struggle with hearing myself play on trumpet, I rely on vibrations and kinesthetics. Even though I don’t have that super upper range under the belt yet, it’s not impossible. This is something I’m currently working on, building the super upper range and memorising what it feels like.
Singers and lyrics.
Listening to singers, I can hear the melodies really well. But the words don’t come out clearly all the time, I would need to look up the lyrics to know the words. For example. The song by Ed Sheerin -Lego House. The lyrics are “I think I love you better now” but what I hear is “I think I love you Bender”.
Sometimes during a gig, the wall of sound can become too much for me, and I lose a sense of what is happening. Somehow during the years of experience, I’ve learnt to rely on vibration to feel the music whenever the sounds don’t make sense.
The moment I realised that was during a big band gig in 2017, all 18-people cramped up on a small stage, and the trumpeters are all on a milk crate with a wooden slat – at times, it gets too much. The band would be playing then the group is so loud, I can’t hear myself and nothing that I’m hearing makes sense. I remember thinking “Shit, I can’t hear where the beat is, oh hang on. I can feel it!” The wooden slat enhanced the vibration from the drums, and that was what I used to stay in time. I trusted myself in playing the right notes as it felt normal and I could feel the vibration that I was creating from the trumpet; fitting in well with the vibration of the band. It feels exactly how it sounds. Whenever I was playing a tension note in the main melody I knew it was a tension note, you could feel it. Whereas in the rehearsal you can hear it. So, I used that information in the performance and my thinking “and we’re about to play the clashy notes, yep that feels about right!”
That was the first time I realised how hard I worked without knowing it. The only reason I was aware of it, was because I started to look into how my hearing is affected in my musical ability. I was in the situation, and I was able to work through it by using other senses.
I’ve never forgotten that day. I remember driving home from that gig just remembering what happened and how I managed it. It was a massive breakthrough in my life.