Stories from Musicians with Hearing Loss

The second edition of Making Music with a Hearing Loss collects more personal narratives from, as well as useful strategies for, hearing-impaired musicians.
Book cover, Making Music with a Hearing Loss, Second Edition, AAMHL Publications, 2016.

My deep connection to the piano and denial of my hearing loss are intimately intertwined. When I went back to the piano in my early 40s, I tried to hide my loss, wearing my hair long to cover my hearing aids. I was afraid that my teacher would conclude I would not amount to much on the piano. Yet when I finally went public with my hearing loss four years later, perhaps appropriately, I was performing a Chopin prelude in a packed recital hall.

I share this story in the second edition of Making Music with a Hearing Loss: Strategies and Stories. My personal essay is one of 12 new narratives from hearing-impaired musicians in the book’s second edition. This new and updated edition, edited by Willa Horowitz and Wendy Cheng, also includes more resources for musicians with cochlear implants.

Some of the new narratives are international, penned by musicians in Taiwan, Germany, Japan, and Portugal. Angelika Wild, a professional cellist in Austria, recounts her experience with sudden hearing loss and how the permanent damage in one ear affected her ability to participate fully in her orchestra, until she was fitted with a hearing aid.

She finally understood legato when her teacher said that it “should feel gummy and sticky.”

In some of my favorite returning narratives, musicians share their creative approaches for handling hearing loss. Renee Blue O’Connell, a guitarist and singer with a cochlear implant in one ear and hearing aid in the other, describes how she completed intensive interval training to be able to hear melodies. Pianist and composer Jennifer Castellano relates how her breakthrough as a pianist occurred when her teacher used words related to touch or feeling to describe music. She finally understood legato when her teacher said that it “should feel gummy and sticky.”

Complementing the personal narratives are chapters from audiologist Brad Ingrao—who gives one of the best overviews of the process of hearing I have personally read—and from Marshall Chasin, one of North America’s premier audiologists focused on music. Chasin describes how to adjust hearing aids—scotch tape is involved in one recommendation!—and how to protect your hearing. Two new chapters by Ingrao on cochlear implants address the topics of programming CIs for musicians, accepting the challenges of hearing music with a CI, and specific tips for relearning to listen to music.

The book is published by AAMHL Publications, an arm of its eponymous Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, founded by its President and violist Wendy Cheng. Although she wears cochlear implants in both ears, Wendy is a committed viola student and performer. She notes in the book’s Foreword that she hopes the new edition “helps audiologists and music educators understand how individuals young and old with hearing loss can integrate music-making in their lives.”


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