Featured

The Musical Route

Music, how did it all start?
It all started when I grabbed those wooden spoons and searched high and low for that perfect kitchen pot. I strike one hit and boom. Talent. Everywhere. My musicality bloomed as my family covered their ears and yelled at me to stop making loud noises.

53806349_299963610671410_6167640498107318272_n-e1552796927320.jpg
Rocking out to some tunes

I grew up with a hearing family that used music as regular entertainment. At the time my sister was a teenager and was in her room all day blasting NSYNC and other popular 2000’s music, which she would occasionally sing along to. My parents listen to the radio often, during work and in the afternoons. My mother liked to wake up everyone on the weekend playing the music from her youth days. Saturday mornings we would all watch Video Hits and Rage, and they would have footage shots of musicians in their happy place playing their instrument. Both of my siblings at one point learnt an instrument (My sister did clarinet, and my brother did bass), but never really kept going.

Before I learnt how to talk, I sang. I loved making music, nearly every day when I could, I would sneak out of the house, climb over the fence, find the trailer (which was used to transport cows) then pick up the connector plug and pretend that it was a microphone and sing my little heart out. I wasn’t singing words or very good melodies, but I was envisioning that I was performing at a concert while I sang. Then, when I started to learn how to talk, I would sing the ABC song over and over again for hours at a time, and my sister hated it! she was “so over that song!”

54515156_369736807202643_6371401142563241984_n

“A, B, C, D, E, F, G, *sings a dodgy melody of the next bit, making up words* ” – Carmen Robertson

In school, I would occasionally go to music class which contained marimbas. I adored it! I was gutted when I wasn’t chosen to be part of the marimba ensemble. Part of the reason I wasn’t involved was that I was rarely in music class. Most of the time my deaf peers and I were taken out of that class to complete ‘Deaf studies’. Deaf studies was a chance for us deafies to catch up or get help on our English, study Auslan, learn about the history of deaf culture, and a whole bunch of stuff. It was helpful, but looking back on it, it doesn’t look good that deaf kids are taken out of music because music isn’t for them. The only reason I did go to some of the music classes was that I asked/the deaf staff knew they had a musical one on their hand.

Because I wanted to be more involved with music I nagged my mother to learn guitar as my first instrument. Mum wanted me to have a normal life as well as many opportunities to learn things, so she obliges. I began learning guitar in 2002. My first music teacher was aware that I had a hearing loss but didn’t treat me any differently to other students. I recalled sitting in the lessons and my teacher telling me how the guitar works, as well as explaining that it could create vibrations. He got me to strum, then place my hand on the body of the guitar, that’s where I became aware of vibrations, and it blew my mind.

 

53717363_2217162425214110_4119362502926532608_n.jpg
Every chance I get, I’m always performing.

Eventually, I wanted to quit playing. My fingers kept getting blisters and I was over the guitar phase. I wanted to learn something else, I wanted to join the recorder band, so I did and I loved it! I had my first performance with the recorder group. We played at the retirement village, and I loved every moment of it. I wanted to keep going but the teacher who was taking the recorder class left and moved on to a new school. Hence the recorder band was cancelled. I was upset, but it was time to nag my mother to start a new instrument — singing lessons.

The reason I chose vocal/ singing was pretty simple. I got picked on by my siblings whenever I sang along to music because I didn’t know the lyrics. I would make up my own words or mumble along to the tune and my sibling would make fun of me (Gotta love them!) By starting singing lessons, I was bound to get better at singing words. I had a performance singing with a bunch of girls, but I struggled singing along with the faster lyrics. Eventually, I didn’t want to continue, I was losing my voice and I was getting bored with just learning a different song and new lyrics. By the end of 2003, I was done with singing.

2004, yet again I picked up another instrument, piano/ Keys. My mother gave me a final warning, this was the last instrument that I could swap to. During 2004, the school also set up a signing choir. All the deaf kids and some others joined and it was the greatest thing.

Literally, a combination of the music world and deaf culture merge into one. I had never felt like I fitted into something so well before. We had performances everywhere, and whenever the song ‘Lean On Me’ would come on or even ‘Shine’ by Shannon Noll (We changed Shine to sign, it sounded cooler) I would remember those moments and it brings me joy to remember the good times I had. It was eventually incorporated into the school plays and whenever the national anthem was played at the assembly all of the students would sign along.

54258036_1789064717860869_271477972177780736_n.jpg
At a family friend birthday party. Took over the microphone and started singing.

I simply loved music and performing, I just happened to be deaf with a bumpy start to my language development. It’s hard to explain but I didn’t care about sports, although I did play a few sports, or cooking or anything else. Music was important and I think I knew that from the very start. My parents were just glad that I have that attitude of, ‘my deafness doesn’t stop me’.

Advertisements
Featured

The Unspoken Voice

When I was in kinder I didn’t have any communication skills. According to my mother, I was either getting into mischief or crying. I even had an assigned child psychologist to visit me and observe my interaction skills, as well a speech therapist who I visited regularly. According to the psychologists report, it appears that I loved playing in the sandpit, beside from that I only interacted with a few people. At the age of 4 I only had the vocabulary of a 1 ½ year old child. Some of the words I knew how to say was words such as ‘Mum, Da, NO! and Cole (Nicole who is my sister), but not much more than that.

 

As a way of communicating I would point or cry and scream and it was frustrating for myself and my family. It was a tough obstacle and we were having no luck getting over the barrier.  I had many people trying to help and teach me how to communicate. They tried teaching me signs and spoken words; they even had pictures for me to point at. It was discovered that I was good at copying sounds and I imitated a lot of words, but I didn’t understand what the word would mean, nor would I remember them. In most of the psychologist’s reports they had classed with low intelligence and predicted that my future wasn’t going to be bright (well I proved them wrong!).

 

When I was heading into primary school the local school has managed to obtain a grant to hire an AID teacher who would work with me. When I got there both the aid worker and the teachers were baffled and were unsure of how to work with me. They often found it difficult to teach me the requirements of the class, so for most of my first year in school I spent it colouring and following the class around. My school report would come back saying that I was settling well into the classroom, and my parents weren’t told that the teachers were struggling to teach me. It wasn’t until I started to bring home books that were far too advanced for me that my mum knew something was up.

I remembered a time during that year when I drew a shark and my family in the water. I was trying to tell my teacher the story from my drawings. The typical, my family was swimming and we saw a shark! (I saw a snippet of movie Jaws and had a creative mind). But the teacher didn’t understand what I was trying to say nor understood my pictures. Next thing I know, my sister was there, she had been taken out of her grade six class because the teacher was hoping that she could ‘translate’ what I was ‘talking’ about. This was happened all the time, both of my siblings were often taken out of their classes to help the teacher understand what I was doing/trying to say.

That year went by and I kept getting isolating from the rest of the class. They would let me play with toys or let me draw while everyone else was learning how to write and count.  My parents often came and had meetings with the school to see if there was any improvement, but by the end of that year there was none. I was better at colouring but nothing else had improved, (and the school was going to pass me up to Grade 1 and let the next person ‘deal’ with it). By then my parents found out that I was being excluded in class and the Aid teacher had been helping other students instead of working with me. It was decided that it was worth trying to go to a Deaf facilitated school which was 60km from home.

 

A new start
I repeated prep at the new school. Every day for a few hours I spent dedicated one on one time with different teachers from the deaf facility learning Auslan. They made sure that I was focused and was responding to the signs I was learning which then led me to understand what the words were and I started to communicate. Because of this, within half the year my vocabulary doubled and by the end of the first year I began to talk in simple sentences. During that time, a teacher from my new school travelled to my family home once a week and taught my family some Auslan so that they could communicate with me.

Fast forward a year to when I was in grade 2. Mum would then often say “I used to want her to talk, but now she won’t shut up!” Which she still says to this day. Not only was I finally able to communicate, but within the first year at the new school I began to learn two languages! I was talking, signing, reading, writing. I was, a little behind the level of each grade but I’ve always managed to keep up with extra help from different specialists.

As Auslan is a visual language, it doesn’t use the small connecting words. For example.

English- “I’m going to the shops soon. Do you need anything?”

Auslan – “Soon I go shops. Need anything?”

I was talking in Auslan and it took me a few years before I understood that English had more words. So throughout my schooling years my English structure and grammar hasn’t always met the average standards, but I have improved over time.

A year later
After that year at the new school I returned to my old school for a day to catch up with some friends and teachers. They were all shocked. They couldn’t believe that I was able to talk and sign, ‘To be a normal child’, and they were surprised. Probably kicking themselves for thinking that I wasn’t capable of learning.

I’ve gone from being labelled as a low intellectual deaf child who didn’t know how to talk or write to someone who now holds a Masters of Music. Sometimes it’s best not to judge what people are capable of because chances are they can

Featured

The Discovery

When I was born, they didn’t do a hearing test in hospitals like they do now. In fact, my deafness wasn’t confirmed until I was about 10 months old. My family had always noticed that I wasn’t responsive to sound and whenever they would walk past me I wouldn’t notice them or I’d get frightened easily. I would sleep through the loudest noises and even have naps in the dairy shed while my parents were working (which is loud!).

 

I was around nine months old and I was sick with an ear infection. It was a common occurrence, so as usual mum took me to the Paediatrician to receive treatment and mentioned that I wasn’t hearing sounds. This is when they first believed I may have hearing loss. The paediatrician ran a hearing test and decided I needed further testing. After that was completed at various places, it was finally confirmed that I was born with Bilateral Sensorineural Hearing Loss, which means nerve “damage” or missing nerve in the cochlea. (Click the link to read more about it.) The reason it took them so long to discover this was because I was always getting ear infections (and when you do have an ear infection your hearing can be impaired for a while), and I still had some hearing function, so I would react to some sounds that’s around me, especially if I was looking at where the noise was coming from.

 

There I was, 9 months old just diagnosed with a hearing loss and there’s no history of deafness in my family. To this day, we still don’t know why I was born deaf. Many deaf children are born from hearing parents and the numbers are increasing. In fact, statistics says 9 out of 10 deaf kids are born to hearing parents.

 

When my family found out about my deafness, they were reassured by doctors who explained that I had the best type of hearing loss because I can still hear some-things. Understandably my parents were slightly sad/disappointed that I had hearing loss. Their thoughts were that I would be missing out on music and my life would be different from my siblings, but they did not treat me any differently. Mum and dad were given mountain loads of information and pamphlets about the hearing loss and deaf culture. They were offered services such as social workers and an early intervention team, just so they could consider the best options for my future. On top of that, my family began to be a part of the deaf community and began to learn sign language, all to benefit me.

 

At 1 year old the audiologist had gotten hearing aids programmed for my hearing loss. When they put them in I wasn’t smiling or crying according to my mother. I looked confused. I was hearing the birds chirping, and car driving pass outside the buliding and I was trying to find out where the noise was coming from, my head moving around the room like a bobble head. Throughout my life, my mother always shares the story of when I first got my hearing aids. She had put me in the car, buckled me in and shut the door. As she shut the door I jumped so high it gave me a fright and I started crying. It gave her joy because I’d never done that before. It’s a simple memory but one my mother cherishes.

 

Naturally, as a child, I didn’t take great care of my hearing aids. There have been times that I threw them, my hearing aids, out of the moving car. Mum would pull over and spend an hour looking for them. I flushed them down the toilet once, never saw that pair again. In kindergarten I took the hearing aids out while I was in the sand pit and to this day no one has seen them. There have been times that I thought I “lost” my hearing aids and 9 months later I found them in the pile of clothes that I stashed in my wardrobe and it was too late at that point as I had already gotten new ones. When I was in primary school, my mother attached the glasses string thing to my hearing aids to prevent me from losing them… I still managed to lose them. There are many other crazy things I have done with them; the list is endless and will probably still find more in the future!

Featured

What can I hear?

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.

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 11.11.24 am

 

Everyday sounds.
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.

Social
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.

 

Music
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.

 

Featured

Introduction

I’m Deaf, and I’m also a musician. That is a combination that is rarely heard of, and because of that I get asked a lot of questions. Nearly everywhere I go, every performance I do, and every person that I meet, there are always questions about my experience.

I grew up in both hearing and deaf worlds. Growing up with both gave me the perspective and understanding of both cultures which is why I completely understand why I am asked some of the questions I get asked. By writing this blog about my experiences, it’s a way for me to communicate to you and give you an understanding of life behind these deaf ears.

My ultimate goal is to educate others so in the future when someone sees a deaf person performing music it won’t be new territory. It’ll be something that happens more often, because by reading this it’ll show that lack of hearing doesn’t have to be a reason to not play music.

I’ll be posting about different aspects of myself and my life and also my experiences. To name a few, I’ll be going into details about; my hearing- which explains the things I can and cannot hear, musical skills- showing what other skills I have obtained to perform music, deaf culture- explaining the difference between deaf and hearing culture, music education- music education for deaf kids, my experience growing up deaf- stories about my growing up and how I got into music, as well as many more things.

Feel free to leave comments, requests or to ask questions. No questions are stupid. These entries are purely from my experiences.

Stay Tuned
– C

“Nothing is impossible to a willing heart” –  John Heywood

img_8948