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The University of Southampton
The Music Focus Group


Experiences of listening to music by cochlear implant user, Edna (July 2013)


Five years ago I had no music at all; now I switch on the radio for background music: choose music programmes to watch on TV: listen to CDs and amuse myself on a keyboard.

I lost my hearing very gradually, being diagnosed with middle-tone nerve deafness (the expression used then) when I was twelve years old, and not reaching moderate to severe loss until in my forties - though it's hard to date. My CI was switched on May 2nd 2008 (5 years ago). This opened up my life in so many ways that it's difficult to remember exactly when music started, so unexpectedly, to interest me again.

I want to get it clear that I have never been a musician but my mother played the organ in a village church and I started reading music and tinkering with tunes on a small harmonium that we had at home from a young age. Later we upgraded to a piano and I started lessons, which lasted about three or four years, say from age 9 to 13 - no exams taken. So church music and songs around the piano were part of my upbringing, but I was quite ignorant about classical music other than simple arrangements given to me by my piano teacher. I later became more interested in pop music. In my late thirties, early forties, I wanted to get to grips with classical music but I had lost my music ear. I could no longer pick up any new tunes.

The last new song I remember hearing was Don't Cry for me Argentina because of the beautiful clarity of the voice - I think it was Elaine Page - not sure. After that I gradually gave up even having music as a background to chores. When I found myself living alone I threw out the record player, radio and cassette player, quite sure that I would never hear music again. So there was approximately a twenty-year gap between music meaning anything, other than singing myself when alone and in my head, until about six weeks after my CI switch-on.

That was the date of my first diary entry about music after the CI. It reads I had listened to 'some classical piano music - very pleasant'. It wasn't until more than a year after that I came here to a music workshop. I enjoyed this very much, to talk about music with people who understood the limitations, trying out pitching my own voice with aid of computer, and listening to the live music chosen for CI users - I noted that I particularly liked the saxophone solo. It had all rekindled my interest and increased my confidence.

My CI diary dwindled - life was becoming too busy and music becoming more of the norm - my norm that is. I purchased a radio, and a personal CD player scouring the charity shops and second-hand market stalls for CDs - CDs being a new concept for me - and have built up a little collection of classical, country and western, sacred, new age, sixties love songs - anything interests me and is worth trying for the pound or two they cost. I found at first, as well as piano music, I enjoyed choral music and attended local choral concerts and still do. I prefer the sound of the human voice above any other instrument, and Songs of Praise junior choirs of the year, has me reaching for the tissues. I am amazed that the sound of music can reach the emotions though my CI, and without memory coming into play such as may be the case with old 50s and 60s pop songs.

Meanwhile I attended a workshop with Richard Reed and enjoyed using his HopeNotes DVD at home. And then more workshops here, the most memorable part being participation in playing percussion instruments together. Rhythm comes naturally right from the beginning. And then taking part in the IMAP trials was very rewarding - again participation and testing of instruments, rhythms, and adding and subtracting instruments in pieces of music at home. This led to my discovering all the music on YouTube, finding old songs etc.

I still won't sing along with others, not being confident with pitching the right key note. I would like to take that further, perhaps with a single singing lesson at some stage. I find new tunes are not easy to follow even with the score - though that helps as does seeing instruments being played - but I enjoy the sounds I hear.

I find it difficult to name the different instruments when listening to an orchestra without the visual clues but I can hear them - ie pick out the strings from the wind instruments etc. Dynamics can be a problem - too quiet to too loud in one piece of music - sometimes I have to make adjustments to the player while listening. I usually use a lead for listening to CDs and computer but find the digital TV gives excellent sound without bothering with a lead. I should be looking into iPods and downloading I think having missed out on all the technology available now.

I found the book and accompanying CD 'Teach yourself Classical Music' very helpful in my early listening stages but it was difficult then. Listening to the CD now I am eager to study the book again, as it sounds so much clearer. Proof that regular listening over the years has brought an improvement.

A keyboard recently purchased has given me endless opportunities for practising listening skills. I bought it to be sure of pitching notes - the only instrument I had was my old school recorder which didn't give a clear enough sound for me to learn new tunes. It's good too for listening to chords. And I enjoy trying out the different sounds. I've started scouring the shops for simple music manuscripts as I threw out all my old sheet music years ago.

My ability to hear music, limited as it may be, has brought an extra dimension and normality back to my life. I can talk about it to others. I can relax with it alone - or dance to it as the mood takes me. I could spend hours trying to make music myself. When I was at school we had to tell our English teacher what hobby we had chosen to write a composition about for homework. I said, "Music". "Listening to or making it?" she asked, adding, "I hope you mean making it." It's one of those remarks that I have never forgotten. She would be pleased that I am still trying!


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