If a Tree Falls: Hearing Loss Redeemed

An Interview with Author Jennifer Rosner

My baby daughter stared at my face, especially my mouth, with intensity. I’d start up again, speaking to her, pointing out the redwood trees, the streams, the striated rocks. Maybe she was hearing me when I spoke, at least partially?

So writes Jennifer Rosner in her deeply moving memoir, If a Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard. Jennifer chronicles the journey that she and her husband embarked on after her first daughter, Sophia, was born deaf. The way became even steeper after her second daughter, Juliet, was diagnosed as profoundly deaf shortly after birth.

I gulped this book down with avid interest, not simply for the gripping story line. My high-frequency hearing loss stems from the same Connexin 26 gene that affected the author’s daughters. I appreciated Jennifer writing with candor and insight about hearing loss and deafness, still often taboo topics in our society. Her lyrical prose made reading her book a pleasure.

In the course of her story, it emerges that Jennifer has a trained voice. As a lover of classical piano music and student of adult piano lessons, I was intrigued by the intersection of hearing and music. I reached out to Jennifer for this exclusive interview.

Given you are a trained singer, what is it like to have deaf daughters?

It was very difficult, especially right after Sophia was born and we learned of her deafness. Instinctively, I’d start a lullaby to Sophia, then cut myself off, with bitterness over the fact that she couldn’t hear. I grieved the loss of so many sounds. Over time, I came to see that she could absorb music tactilely. When my second daughter, Juliet, was little (and profoundly deaf), I’d drape her over my chest and sing to her. I know she felt it—and loved it. Now, both my daughters hear with hearing technology and they, too, sing!

Tell us more about your experiences singing during your childhood.

I studied voice for six years—in Connecticut and later in New York with Felix Knight, a tenor formerly of the Metropolitan Opera. (My favorite arias were from the operas La Traviata and La Boheme. I also loved Gianni Schicchi.) It was the highlight of my school week to take the train into New York, have my lesson, then walk around Lincoln Center. Often my mother accompanied me. My mother had a hearing loss—and in many ways, which I describe in the book, she had great difficulty being attuned to me—yet my singing bonded us deeply. She was most attentive to me when I sang to her, and my music was a joy we shared.

What role does singing play in the emotional well-being of your family today?

The girls and I sing together all the time; both Sophia and Juliet sing beautifully and in tune! They love songs from The Music Man and Annie (and also hits from the country singer Taylor Swift!). They like Handel’s Messiah, too, which they heard at a very young age and continue to hum. Our singing brings joy and connection with each other.

Do either of your daughters have an interest in playing a musical instrument?

Juliet plays violin and loves it! Almost nightly, she sets up her portable music stand on our screened porch and gives concerts! One of the first songs she learned was about a monkey eating a banana, which she tries to play WHILE eating a banana! She always includes that one. Sophia plays piano and is deciding now whether or not to try cello. There is a wonderful community chorus in our town, and as soon as the girls are old enough to stay up for the rehearsals, I am hoping we’ll join. No voice lessons yet, but hopefully….

If a Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard was published earlier this year by The Feminist Press of the City University of New York.

Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

1 Comment

  1. […] new website, which focuses on her “grand passion”: piano. I am particularly taken with an interview that Nancy conducted with Jennifer Rosner, author of the memoir, If a Tree Falls: A Family’s […]

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