All the signs were there, I was slowly losing my hearing.. No one thought of it. There were two sure components of my life; musical abilities and this sneaky emerging deafness - an awkward combination. My father wore big, powerful hearing aids, but claimed it all came from the bombs in the war. My uncles, my grandfathers, everyone had hearing aids, but when they told me in 2nd grade that my hearing was down a bit nobody thought anything of it.
A painting of Beethoven hung on the wall behind our piano, taking a break from his writing and looking sternly down. My father shipped it home from Italy during the war. There I sat year after year, playing and singing away while Beethoven looked on, perhaps knowing the day would come when I'd have to give it up and join him.
I'm grateful I had 40 years of solid music. Music was what I did. I continued to play and sing when I started wearing hearing aids around the age of 20. My hearing WAS progressively getting worse, but I never dreamed that one day I wouldn't be able to even recognized what song MY choir at church was singing. It's comical to think of it now, but I was teaching someone a part I wanted him to sing and he had a screwed up expression on his face and that's when it hit me. "WHAT, I'M OFF KEY?" He nodded. I used to have perfect pitch!
The New Christy Minstrels
It was wonderful while it lasted! Singing felt like flying. Theater was my favorite and I sang and acted in every play I could be in as a teenager. After graduating from high school, I joined up with my brother William. We bought a motor home, and in a musical adventure together, we sang our way across the country with our night club act.
Our destination was California which brought us to Hollywood, where we dragged our instruments - William with his guitar and me and my string bass - up the stairs and barged our way into the New Christy Minstrels office. They had told us NOT to come, but William insisted. (William doesn't know what "no" means). Then they told us NOT to call ( Don't call us, we'll call you"), but he continued to call them once a week. When you say "NO" to William he just kind of stares at you and you KNOW it's going to happen anyways!
We were called to join a year later. I was the first female bass player for the Christies, and possibly the youngest to join at age19. Our first concert with the New Christy Minstrels was the California State Fair after just a few rehearsals. I'm not sure I had all the songs 'down' but had fun acting like I did. It was an interesting time with LOTS of scheduled traveling. Not the the fun, discovery kind of traveling William and I had done before. I dragged my string bass back and forth across the country 4 times between our our nightclub act and the Christies shows. I eventually had enough of the traveling and quit, they called me BACK, but wanted to try new things.
Lots of piano playing
Many years of great times and great music followed. I returned to the East Coast eventually and played the piano and sang at every venue possible in Connecticut, along with Atlantic City and Florida. I played Piano bars, nightclubs, restaurants, parties, and wherever they wanted to hear my renditions of Billy Holiday, Carole King and everything in between. (Hey, can you play something fast?) I was leading the music at a local church that brought me to that day when I realized I was off key and my singing career was OVER!
I had played so many pianos and sang and played and sang for SO long (I play by ear, haha) that I could do it in my sleep. I have a recurring dream where instead of a piano, I'm playing a table and music is coming out! Not and easy thing to do!
Finally, I had cochlear surgery. The cochlear processor brought back conversation into my life. I could talk on the telephone again. I didn't have to be 1 foot and centered in front of someone to "try" to read their lips The very night after they turned the processor on (a month after the surgery) I could VERY CLEARLY hear WHAT my husband was saying on the telephone in the NEXT ROOM! I was told that I caught on fast possibly because of my hidden musical intonation.
Hurray! I could join the world again The Cochlear processor allows me to hear people TALKING! BUT MUSIC IS VERY DIFFICULT TO HEAR. I can only hear what the processor allows me to hear and through the processor, music sounds very OFF KEY; It sounds like the song is underwater. This makes the singer and instruments sound like they're in different keys! Therefore, SINGING FOR ME IS OUT OF THE QUESTION. I've heard of other professionals like myself who just cannot sing anymore. BUT, although it's not as easy, I can play the piano because I know where to put my fingers, and the piano is always in tune even though I'm NOT.
Writing as Beethoven did
Having that big music void in my life was depressing. Not only can I not sing and perform, I can't even LISTEN to music anymore. The only songs I can hear are the ones I knew BEFORE I went deaf. My brain remembers them. I haven't heard any new songs since maybe 1990. When listening to "oldies" on CD's or the radio, I will ask whoever is with me "WHAT SONG IS IT?" I'm constantly asking. I'll listen closely, and many times my memory will take over and THEN I HEAR IT!
What I CAN hear is, rhythm, phrasing and lyrics, but NO MELODY. Now, how did Beethoven write the his 9th symphony? He wrote it after he lost his hearing. Well, I know because it's how I write songs. It's all in my head. It's just like that little tune YOU hear in your head. I've learned that I can greatly develop this. When some tune starts up in my mind, I quickly RUN to the piano, play it AND write down the notes. I can't do a quick recording of it like other songwriters because I'll never be able to HEAR the recording! I then produce a demo in my small studio and thank God I have a talented group of people I can bring my demos to for a nice production.
Writing songs is how I can be a musician again. MY songs are the NEW ones I can hear; I can hear them because they started in my own mind.
I love being a part of the talented people I work with when they are recording my songs. I feel like me again although it's tough when they ask me "what's the melody there?" I can't sing it, but I'll play it out on the piano.
After being passed around the family for many years that painting of Beethoven has a prominent place in my living room over the piano; I feel his presence; he is still watching, taking notes and perhaps thinking "Go Girl!"
Along with my songs, I am developing music for the hard of hearing and cochlear processor users. Please feel free to enjoy my YOU CAN FIND THAT ROOM on my music page (sung by Wendy Drown). There is MORE to come!