02/02/2015 04:48 EST | Updated 04/04/2015 05:59 EDT

How a Person Who Is Hard of Hearing Listens to Music

While my hearing is pretty bad, I can hear some things and am not considered clinically deaf. I had a CAT scan in my early 20s, which showed that my cochleas didn't completely form. My diagnosis is "profound hearing loss." Loud, deep noises are my friends. I've never heard a bird sing. I can't hear the kettle whistle or the doorbell ring.

davidgoldmanphoto via Getty Images

"HOH Oh!" pieces by Jacki Andre explore living life with a disability, and especially issues related to being hard of hearing (HOH).

Recently, I became friends with someone who hosts a weekly program on a Greek classic rock station. A few days after we met, I decided to give his station a listen at work. I popped my earbuds in, tuned in via the website, and cranked it up. Within a few minutes, a song came on that I instantly "recognized." I have heard it many times before and it has a fun retro vibe, but I had no idea what it's called or who the artist is. The website is all Greek to me (heh), so I asked my long-suffering friend and co-worker, Heather, to tell me what was playing. She held the earbuds up to her ears and immediately started grooving and then started singing along too. "It's the Rolling Stones," she said, "'I Can't Get No Satisfaction.'"

Welcome to my HOH world.

I have always loved music. I grew up surrounded with '70s country music. The radio was always on in the house; and 8 tracks reigned supreme in the station wagon. My dad and his friends would often jam together at functions -- Dad on acoustic guitar and vocals, Uncle Joe on accordion and George on drums. When I was in Grade 6, I ran into my teacher at The Bay one day. She suggested purchasing the new Air Supply album (The One That You Love), and so, with my first album purchase, I began my foray into pop and rock music.

I was lucky to be a teenager during the '80s and I gravitated towards the amazing pop/rock artists that Canada was churning out at the time: Corey Hart, Loverboy, Glass Tiger, Gino Vanelli, Bryan Adams, and Blue Rodeo. Through the 80s and into the mid-90s, I stayed on top of pop, rock, and country thanks largely to music videos that identified both artist and song in text.

Although I listened to the radio, I've always struggled with it. The best I can explain it -- not fully understanding what hearing people actually hear -- is that it's like listening to a distant foreign station in the old days, maybe transmitting weakly from Cuba. You have to turn the volume up LOUD before you can hear it very well. You can differentiate between spoken word and music, but you have no idea what they are actually saying. Your rudimentary Spanish picks out a word here and there like "Cuba", "thanks", and "love." You can hum or scat along to the music, but any lyrics you can make out are basically just phonetic chunks with no meaning. You recognize songs by music only, and since you can't understand the DJs, you don't know the song titles or the artists' names.

Frustrated with my inability to make head nor tail out of most of what I heard on the radio, I stopped listening about 25 years ago. But now there's a game-changer: music recognition apps. I just learned about these recently and they are going to rock my world. There is no one more perfectly suited to use these kinds of apps than a deaf/HOH music fan.

While my hearing is pretty bad, I can hear some things and am not considered clinically deaf. I had a CAT scan in my early 20s, which showed that my cochleas didn't completely form. My diagnosis is "profound hearing loss." Loud, deep noises are my friends. I've never heard a bird sing. I can't hear the kettle whistle or the doorbell ring. Instead, I rely a lot on visual cues, tactile sensations, and lipreading.

I love nothing more than tucking my feet under the chest of one of my sleeping dogs, so that I can feel him snore. I often use my sense of touch to pick up audio cues, such as when I'm puzzled why the vacuum cleaner has no suction -- is it actually running? I also use my sense of touch to get more out of the sounds I do hear. In the car, the only place I listen to sound through a speaker system, I will touch the arm rest or roof during my favourite parts of songs, just to experience as much joy as I can.

When music is very loud, I pick up some sound in my body without having to touch anything. Bass, especially, resonates in my sternum. I was surprised to learn in a recent CBC podcast about deaf musicians that most people are able able to feel high notes in the upper parts of their body, like their scalp and cheekbones. This is not something I normally discern. When I chatted with Heather about the podcast, she nodded and barred her teeth, saying, "Yup, in my teeth." Evelyn Glennie, interviewed for the podcast, points out that once Beethoven lost his hearing, he instinctively put his teeth on his piano while composing, in order to pick up the high notes -- so Heather is in excellent company.

I have no idea what's missing from what I do hear, but I can hear music well enough to tap along with the beat, dance badly and sometimes even sing along. It's not always easy for me to pick the artists' vocals out of the mix. Before the advent of YouTube, learning lyrics meant following along on a lyric sheet, and phonetically piecing the written words into the music.

Sometimes my timing is off as I lose the nuances of drawn out or rapidly compressed words. Ad libs are a puzzle. YouTube has been a blessing, particularly for live performances that allow me to lipread. Within the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of captioned music videos. When captions are timed well and displayed within the rhythm of the music, it is a tremendous help. And, for me at least, lyric videos are the best thing since sliced bread. But regardless of how I do it, it takes a lot of time and concentrated effort to learn lyrics, and I need written lyrics in front of me -- in one form or another -- until I have them completely memorized.

Speaking of which, I have a date with the Rolling Stones. "I can't get no, I can't get no/I can't get no satisfaction."


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