Music sparks boundless joy, even as ears fail

Day by Day: Music sparks boundless joy, even as ears fail

By LIZ THOMPSON

Jun 18, 2018
This Week Community News

Tevye was singing the opening song for the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” doing his dance down the dirt road. As I watched, my insides did a dance, too. I broke out in a huge grin and almost giggled. I sang along.

My singing voice has long since gone the way of my hearing, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I was overflowing with joy and a delicious sense of well-being.

I had a similar reaction when I watched “My Fair Lady” with my granddaughter, Elizabeth. My memory of music, playing and singing these songs years ago, was simply delightful.

My ears now are deaf. I perceive all sounds through my cochlear implant’s voice processors. My memory of sound, including music, is important for that perception to be more understandable.

If I know what song is being played or sung, and it’s one I knew before my deafness, I can “hear” it. Visuals such as Tevye dancing or Eliza Doolittle singing while she wrapped violets help me remember.

After my first implant in my right ear in 2002, speech was so clear, I spent a lot of time listening and learning to trust what I heard. In 2009, my second implant was in my left ear.

With the second implant, understanding music was better. In time, even without visual cues, sometimes I could distinguish a song I knew before deafness. Since then, I learned we process speech with our right ear/left brain and music with our left ear/right brain. I enjoy some music that is new to me, especially instrumental.

Music was a major part of worship for me — praising God, thanking him with songs such as “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Amazing Grace.”

Familiar hymns often transport me to the days of singing in choirs or while my grandmother played the piano and my mom and I sang.

By high school, my hearing loss must have been moderate, affecting my speech comprehension. My grades plummeted. These were the days of teachers writing on blackboards while talking away from the class — no technology visuals.

Since I had no clue what I was missing, I seldom asked for help.

But music — choir, small groups and musicals — got me through high school. An hour of singing brought my self-esteem back to normal.

I thank God for Ron Kenreich, who started as my music director in 1968, my senior year at Westerville (South) High School (Ohio). He was patient but kept his expectations high so we had something to reach for. He made music fun while teaching us its complexities and giving us new opportunities.

“The students welcomed me and their desire to perform beautiful music inspired me,” Kenreich said. “I can’t imagine my life without music. I still enjoy accompanying students at music contests and recitals.” Those students are fortunate.

“In some choirs,” Kenreich said, “members can even have similar heartbeats. Music memory can last a lifetime. It is possible for nursing-home residents to sing along with old hymns when they are unable to recall anything else.”

Music is everywhere: in nature, lullabies, the ABCs song, at weddings, funerals, sporting events and dances. We sing “Happy Birthday to You,” and our children and grandchildren learn Bible verses set to music.

Our granddaughter is studying music in college and is a wonderful pianist and violinist. This year was her first chorus experience. She said she now understands why I loved singing. When I told her about my recent emotions with music, in particular the Tevye moment, she told me that listening to music affects the brain and releases serotonin and dopamine, which are called “happiness hormones.”

Twenty-five years after my 1969 graduation, I walked into a church where Kenreich played the organ and his wife, Beth, directed the choir. I joined. That was my last choir experience, with a double Kenreich blessing.

“Music has filled my life with unimaginable joy,” Kenreich said.

Me, too, Ron. In part, thanks to you.

 

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