Monday, May 22, 2017

Are you a singer with hearing loss? Steps you can take to make life easier in your choir

Last week there was a guest post about what choir leaders can do to help singers who have hearing loss.

ear trumpet

This week I want to look at steps you can take yourself if you’re a singer who is experiencing hearing loss.

If you have any suspicion that you might be experiencing hearing loss there are two vital things that you must do:
  1. acknowledge that you have hearing loss;
  2. let your choir leader know.
Until you do both of these, there is no way that you can be helped.

1. acknowledge your hearing loss

Time after time I have tried to help singers who have pitching problems only to find that they have a certain amount of hearing loss.

I once had a young man in my choir who I tried to help by singing loudly into his ear for a whole term before he told me he was deaf in that ear!

Another guy would sing out loud and proud (but out of tune), putting everyone around him off. He was enjoying himself, but spoiling the enjoyment of others. I had a private word with him and it turned out that he was finding it more and more difficult to hear the other singers.

In both cases there was an easy fix. In the first case I simply sang in the young man’s other ear. In the second case the chap went to his GP and found out that his ears needed syringing.

It can be embarrassing to admit that you have a hearing loss. Sometimes even to yourself. It’s not easy to come to terms with something that might gradually get worse and eventually destroy your pleasure of singing. But if you don’t acknowledge that you have a problem, there is no way you can find a solution.

2. let your choir leader know

Last week Bettina Gellinek Turner outlined some great ideas for how your choir leader can help when you have hearing loss. But if your choir leader doesn’t know about your hearing loss, they can’t put those ideas into practice!

People can only be supportive if they know you have a difficulty. You can have a word in private with your choir leader and nobody else need know. But it might be even more beneficial if you at least let others in your section know so they can be sensitive to any difficulties you might have.

ways to help yourself

Even if your choir leader is aware of any hearing difficulties you might have, you also have responsibilities as a singer. There are plenty of things you can do to help yourself.

  • stand front and centre – make sure you’re in a position where you can clearly see your choir leader, can hear any instructions they might give, and can hear all those in your section (see also Why you should stand front and centre if you’re not a confident singer)
  • do your homework – you might need to put in a bit more work in order to keep up. Make notes in your score when your musical director gives instructions, listen to your part at home to make sure you’ve really nailed it, sing against other parts at home in controlled conditions (see also Do you need to practice outside choir rehearsals?)
  • make sure you can hear others – as hearing loss increases singers tend to sing louder to compensate so they can hear themselves properly. The danger is that you then sing too loud and can’t hear anybody else. Focus on listening to all the other parts.
  • don’t chat in rehearsal – you know that background chatter is intrusive when you’re trying to listen carefully, so set a good example and never chat when your section is not singing.
  • don’t just busk it! – if you’ve not heard an instruction or aren’t sure if you’ve nailed your part, don’t just busk it but ask for clarification and to go over things again.
  • are you still enjoying it? – people join choirs because they love to sing with others, particularly when there are gorgeous harmonies. If your hearing loss gets so bad that you can’t hear the other singers then you need to question why you’re still going to choir. If you can only hear yourself then you may as well stay at home and sing solo.
  • there are other ways to be in a choir – if the social side of the choir is important to you, there may come a time when you stop being a singer in the choir, but take on a different role that doesn’t rely on your hearing ability.
  • know when it’s time to step down – I once had a man in a choir who was gradually losing his hearing. It was getting to the point where he just sang loudly to compensate and was putting everyone else off. He said to me: “Just tell me when I should stop singing.” I really didn’t want that responsibility! As a singer with hearing loss you know far more about your own capabilities are. Be honest with yourself and realise when it’s time to stop being a singer in the choir. If you find it a difficult decision, then discuss with your choir leader and come to a mutual decision.

If you love to sing and you develop hearing loss it can be devastating. It will take time to adjust, but there may come a day when you have to let singing go – at least singing in a choir. Try not to define your life by just one thing and find other, alternative creative outlets. You might be surprised at what you find!

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Chris Rowbury



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