musicians and hearing

Where possible, I like to merge my hobbies and interests with my profession.

I started out my young life, heavily immersed in music – I would spend hours and hours hammering away at the piano, in my own little world, composing. I fantasised about working with Andrew Lloyd Webber as I created my jaunty show tunes, or Philip Glass as I created somewhat more minimalist pieces.

Composition aside, I would play as much as I could for local youth theatres for their productions, and had an absolute ball up in Dundee with the National Youth Music Theatre one summer when I was 15, where a group of children attending performed one of my musical songs as I accompanied on piano.

This led me to studying at Leeds College of Music – one of my most enjoyable times of early adulthood, but a time that made me realise that for me, music is a private endeavour, and for people to hear my compositions, especially in the making, to repeat a friend who put put it so eloquently, is “like the world hearing me think out loud”. I didn’t want everyone to hear my thoughts, and so the “obvious path” (I jest!) thereafter, was to follow a life of science and care, where I obtained a degree in Bioscience and Postgraduate in Audiology.

I was initially attracted to Audiology because I plain and simply didn’t want people to struggle to hear the rich soundscape of life that I hold so dear – from the sound of the car tooting outside, to the rustling of the trees, to the splish splash as a puppy dances in a puddle…and to imagine not hearing music properly – utterly unthinkable.

As a creative human, and one who was surrounded by a world of music, I see it as my duty, and a pleasure, to reach out to as many musicians and sound engineers as I can, to educate them about hearing health.

Recently, my world of ears has collided with music again and for that, I am overjoyed.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to speak with the full BBC National Orchestra of Wales in their home at Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff Bay. It was a session to highlight to them about all the factors that they may have in their present lives and/or their history, have an affect on their hearing, aside from noise, so that they can keep themselves in check, and not to be afraid to ask for help. It was such an enjoyable session to deliver, and I was heart-warmed by the amount of people who have contacted me since.

Musicians, in fact, anyone who has sound as their livelihood and calling, generally struggle with the idea of talking about how well they are hearing and don’t ask for help, because of their perceptions of how it might affect their income, but also, for a lot of musicians, creating and playing music is as essential to their life as air, food and water. The idea of not hearing in tip top condition, can be, for some, terrifying, to the point of that absolutely not being an option.

This is compounded with the fact that hearing is an invisible sense, and so it can be hard to know in the first place at what level we are hearing anyway…as such, because it is such a sensitive conversation to have with musicians, I am determined to make it my mission for my practice to be a place of warmth and safety, for musicians and sound engineers to come for their hearing health MOT, and to put in place, if necessary, plans of action for hearing protection and improvement.

For me, it is important to not just focus on those who are already working professionally as musicians, but anyone and everyone who has an interest in appreciating or participating in music, which is why 5 years ago, I did some valuable work with the Royal Northern College of Music, getting in front as many students as possible to talk about the dangers of noise damage and how to protect against it.

Further to this, only yesterday, I was invited to speak to the PGCE Music students at Cardiff Metropolitan University. I spoke about how we need to protect music teachers from noise damage, looking at action plans for minimising the impact of noise in their daily lives within the classroom and through time tabling, but crucially, providing them an awareness of the types of conditions and history that students may have that may affect their hearing and their ability to appreciate and perform music on their own or within an ensemble, so that teachers can provide the best environment and adapt their approach if necessary.

Whilst the group was small, we had some excellent discussions, and I hope that they will be on board with helping me out with, at this stage, basic research, which I would love to lead to the development of a positive policy surrounding noise exposure in music classes, to protect the music teachers and students of the future.

If you are a musician or work in the arts, and would like to learn more about how I can help you clinically or through training, get in touch!