Pat Dobbs loves going to the opera, even though she can’t discern the melody from the other notes. She has cherished music and the piano since childhood (especially Debussy: “His music brings me to other worlds”), and her recent struggle with music, in part, led her to create the Hearing Loss Revolution and its Nine Guiding Principles, reprinted below.
Pat started taking piano lessons around age 12, although, she says, “I feel like I was born knowing how to play the piano—kind of like an intuitive experience.” She loved playing around with notes and chords on her own throughout childhood. She told her parents that when she got married, instead of throwing her a big wedding, she wanted them to give her a piano.
As a senior in high school she had a teacher who finally “got” her and showed her “how to bring out the beauty” of music. She went on to major in piano at Ithaca College, and play as an accompanist for several singers.
During college, Pat began losing her hearing, but it didn’t affect her enjoyment of music for a while. When she married at 27, her parents bought her a Steinway upright, “and today that piano is my most treasured possession. It is in the center of my home where I can see it and play it all the time.”
Her hearing continued to decline, though, and at 60 she was fitted with a cochlear implant. “With the implant I am blessed to be able to hear what people are saying. But music, especially the high ranges, sounds very tinny,” and the melody doesn’t stand out from other notes—making it difficult to find as much joy in playing the piano. At the opera, however, she is drawn to “a feeling of excitement and knowing how beautiful the music is. Maybe it’s feeling it, remembering it, and enjoying the acting too.”
She is confident that as her brain adapts to this different way of hearing through the cochlear implant, the music will come back as well. She explains, “When I first got my cochlear implant, I heard sounds—like birds singing, crickets chirping, the refrigerator humming, typing on a keyboard—but didn’t know what those sounds were. I had to relearn what certain sounds were. I believe it is the same for music. So as I start to listen to simple melodies and ones that I am familiar with, I will relearn to hear music.”
Today Pat is Founder of the Hearing Loss Resource Center and President of the Morris County, New Jersey, chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America. Her positive, clear-eyed, and self-responsible outlook on her ongoing relationship with music is also evident in the empowering principles she has written for people with hearing loss.
© Pat Dobbs 20141. Our lives define us, not our hearing loss.2. We’re intelligent, engaged, and valued in spite of our hearing loss.3. We’re the heroes of hearing loss, not its victims.
4. We advise people what we need them to do so we can hear them better.
5. We are honest with ourselves and others; we don’t pretend to hear what we don’t hear.
6. We use Assistive Listening technologies proudly, and advocate for installing them in public places.
7. We see the humor when we misunderstand what people say, and we are able to laugh at it.
8. We accept with grace the hearing challenges that we cannot change.
9. We are grateful for our courage and strength in living these Principles.