Heart songs recovered via new keyboard

Heart songs recovered via new keyboard

By LIZ THOMPSON

October 8, 2018

This Week Community News

It was a birthday surprise. But more than that, it was a chance to try again.

Would my fingers and eyes coordinate after nearly 20 years absent from any kind of piano keyboard?

After my husband finished the task of putting the stand together, he firmly placed the full-sized keyboard on top and fastened it in place. We moved it close to the wall, and I placed the old hymnal on the music holder.

The inscription in the front of the Methodist hymnal read: “To Elizabeth Ann, from Mother and Dad, Christmas 1968.”

I was a senior in high school and had been in school and church choirs since first grade. Even though I gave most of my sheet music to my grandchildren, I had kept this gift.

You might ask why I write about music so often. Music was a comfort and a major part of my identity through my first 40-plus years — singing, playing guitar and piano, and writing music. It was my second language — one I learned from my mother and grandmother and various teachers and directors through these same years.

It was my main choice for praising God and sharing my faith. Those same songs wrapped me in warmth and safety when my life became turbulent.

I know I took this gift for granted and never expected the day would come when music was completely silenced. Even as my hearing faded, music remained a part of me.

When my deafness arrived, the music played on in my mind and heart. A new comfort: ” … I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” (1 Corinthians 14:15)

Earlier last summer, on a trek with my daughter to exchange her harp for a larger one, I stepped into a piano store. I felt surrounded by old friends made new and shiny. A young woman was playing one of the pianos, and I listened.

Over time, my perception of music with my cochlear implants has improved. I have determined to simply enjoy whatever I could. Instrumentals especially sound good.

The woman stopped playing, and my daughter was making her purchase. I took one of her harp-music sheets and played it on one of the beautiful baby-grand pianos. It was a melody with single notes, no chords.

The piano keys felt good to my skin, and I remembered what notes to play. It transported me to the old upright I learned to play on.

Before we left the store, I asked for advice on keyboard purchases. I was hoping to touch one to see if it felt like a piano.

The next room, which we’d missed somehow, housed several keyboards. Never had I set piano music to memory, so I played a scale. It felt very close to the piano I had played moments before.

“Someday,” I mused.

Days later, I searched the Sweetwater website, from which we had purchased drum accessories for our youngest grandson.

There was “my” keyboard. The price was lower than the Columbus store, so I sent the link to my husband stating it was the keyboard I had told him about.

I didn’t know he saved the link. Nor did I know that, months later, he would order it for me after talking with our daughter.

Throughout the summer, I brought up the idea of purchasing the keyboard to Bob, and he said I should order it. I hesitated time and again. Would I remember how to play chords and more than a single line of notes with one hand? Was it like riding a bicycle?

More than that, would I play? My singing voice is all but gone, and I used to play more as an accompaniment for my voice.

So when I placed my hands on the new keyboard, my fingers worked to remember their old friends. My eye-hand coordination was tested.

I just didn’t expect the tears of joy when I realized I still could do this.

It is a gift I will never take lightly as I play my favorite hymns and show tunes and hum along.

 

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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.

 

Guitar lessons live via Skype…

Dennis Whitt and I “starred” in our high school musical Showboat in 1969. He as a dashing Gaylord Ravenal and me as an adoring Magnolia Blossom. Go ahead and smile or laugh – I didn’t write the play but the music is spectacular to sing and easy to listen to.

Who would have guessed that 45 years later he would take his love of music and gift of teaching to the Internet?

The Internet was so far away from our thinking 45 years ago, we could not have imagined it: but it’s here now and taking guitar lessons online, face-to-face with your teacher is truly amazing – and I might add, convenient.

If you need to dust off your guitar or have always wanted to learn, at least basics, Dennis is the man to go to. Or maybe your child or grandchild wants to learn. This is a perfect gift any time of year or for any occasion.

Dennis has more than 30 years of guitar teaching experience privately and three years in public schools. He has performed hundreds of shows in nightclubs and restaurants, hotels and motels, private resorts and music festivals. Dennis has also been featured in newspaper articles, on television shows and radio programs.

About this online learning, in Dennis’ words:

“The guitar lessons are live webcam video guitar lessons via Skype. All that is required of the student in terms of technology is a free Skype account, installing the Skype application software, a webcam and either a USB headset or microphone plugged into a sound card.

“I can also chat and do file sharing through Skype such as PDF, Word docs, MP3s and more. Since I have my own Website at: http://www.classicfolkguitarlessons.com/ I can direct my students to specific URLs to view additional content, blog entries and “How To’s.”

“I have an appointment booking service that allows real time scheduling via my online calendar which doubles as a payment processor accepting all major credit cards and PayPal.  I offer a free introductory guitar lesson, followed by rates as follows:

  • $15.00 per 1/2 Hour
  • $20 00 per 45 minutes
  • $25.00 for 1 full hour

“I also offer payable in advance lesson bundles such as four 1/2 hour lessons for $49.95.”

Music unlocks many emotions

Day by day
Music unlocks many emotions
By LIZ THOMPSON
ThisWeekNews.com
Tuesday October 7, 2014

When I was invited to a hymn sing at an assisted living home, I asked, “What hymns are you singing?” and was thrilled with the answer.

The list included what I call old, familiar songs such as Amazing Grace, When We All Get to Heaven, Love Lifted Me and a childhood favorite, This Little Light of Mine.

I was also glad I would be sitting with the residents and not leading the singing. My singing voice went south in my mid-40s when I was almost deaf, a condition that happened gradually since childhood.

Music and singing was my fervent hobby, and I often led singing at such places while playing my guitar. I had missed it and realized this particular day that, in part, I had been missing the contact with people who love visitors and music.

After two successful cochlear implants, I had hoped for restoration of my ability to grasp music, but it didn’t quite happen as I hoped.

I can understand most vocalists’ words — if they actually enunciate and sing, not what appears to be screaming into a microphone — but new music melodies are like a foreign language and quite flat.

Am I sad about that? At first I was, but my restored ability to understand speech and sounds with clarity superseded any sadness. Going from deaf to understanding about 95 percent is nothing to sniff at and I’m thankful beyond measure.

Back to music.

To my joy, 40-plus years of music are stored in my brain, and heart I believe, as music memory. If I see the words and get the first note of a song, or have the music to read, I get it and can sing.

My voice is no longer one for performing but I don’t mind singing at home or in groups. When my grandchildren were small, nothing stopped me from singing to them as I know I was sung to by my mother and grandmothers.

I can still hear the beat so my foot taps, hands clap and my soul is soothed.

Remember the show Name That Tune? Often I knew the tunes in two to five notes. So you can understand my music memory is full of good songs such as hymns, music from the 1930s (thanks to my parents) through the early 1990s that includes folk songs, show tunes, camp songs, pop, big band, songs I composed and more.
It’s a true blessing and I’m glad my brain has a lot of good information stored for easy access when needed. I don’t even need to select an app to get at it. I only need to think of a song or hear a familiar tune.

After my recent column on memory, a reader, Dana, told me about a movie that was, at the time, showing at the Drexel Theatre called, Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory .

To my chagrin, I didn’t move fast enough to attend and it has moved on to another city. Looking on the website, musicandmemory.org, I learned that music has proven to reach people with Alzheimer’s.

Not a surprise. Many memories are locked inside all of us and we need something to turn the key. In the case of music, it often unlocks memories and emotions for me.

When at the hymn sing, a woman in her 90s held up her forefinger and waved it back and forth when we sang This Little Light of Mine. I joined her in the motion and smiled remembering doing that as a child and when I taught my children the song.

Music can bring tears to my eyes from the message or a melancholy memory often marking the passing of time in my life.

After my first implant, my audiologist told me about HOPE Notes. According to the program’s website, http://hope.cochlearamericas.com/listening-tools, it is a “program uniquely developed for cochlear implant and hearing aid users designed to help improve music perception and appreciation using original songs, traditional folk, blues and country styles and some familiar tunes played in unexpected ways.”

Using both visual and auditory cues, it reminded me of how I heard music, and it improved my ability to enjoy it more.

The man who developed the program is a musician with cochlear implants. So often, adversity brings a gift and he shared his gift with others in a similar situation.

Next time you sway to a familiar tune, “count your blessings, name them one by one …”