I did not grow up in a musical family. The HiFi was never used. My father listened to ballgames on the transistor radio, not music. I listened to The Monkees. I saw music on television variety shows. That was about it. By my early teen years, that age when you start to develop your own musical taste, I was developing a hearing loss. At first it was slight. But every year I’d lose another 3 decibels or so. When my friends were discovering Bruce Springsteen, I was listening to country music. It wasn’t a passion – it was simply what was played at the horse barns where I spent my time. It was easy to hear and understand. Over time I stopped listening to music altogether. I couldn’t. My hearing loss had become severe. Without hearing aids I was essentially deaf. With aids, I could hear, but sounds were muffled, distorted and incomplete.
I’m now in my early fifties. I’d say that I’ve missed about thirty-five years of popular music. Music is not something that I mourn not having. I’ve filled my life and my head with other satisfying things. But a year ago I had a cochlear implant embedded into my skull. This astounding technology has enabled me to hear again. I’m having conversations. I’m hearing cashiers say, “have a nice day”, I’m even able to eavesdrop! All of this new hearing doesn’t just happen. One has to work at it. My hearing no longer goes through the normal pathways. Sounds are picked up by a microphone, and they are turned into electrical codes that are tapped directly onto the auditory nerve. The brain has to learn to make sense of it. Over the course of this last, miraculous, year, my brain has been making sense of more and more. It continues to let in new sounds, and what I hear is fuller, more complete, and more resonant. I wondered what my brain would make of music. Lucky for me, television is rife with reality music shows. I started to watch. And listen.
I have a special device on my television that sends the sound directly to my cochlear implant, so the sound is very clear. I also use closed captions, because despite the volume and clarity of the sound, I can’t always make out the words of the singers. This past summer I listened to a karaoke contest. Recently, I was glued to the set every Monday night for the a cappella contest, “The Sing-Off.” Songs that were touted as “the biggest hit of the 80s” were totally new to me. What was also new to me was how complex the music was. I was hearing the full range of notes, and the bands backing up the singers sounded musical, not the jumbled cacophony that I’d been hearing for most of my life. The more I listened, the more my brain worked and the better it sounded.
I’m one of those people who remembers her dreams. My dreams are complex works of fiction. I can remember dreams from my childhood, dreams from college, dreams from when I was first married. There has never been music in them. But two nights ago I had a dream with a soundtrack. It had a full chorus and an orchestra. It was lush, complex and stirring. I woke up to beautiful music in my head.