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A Different Way to Listen

The world of Classical Music is full of wonder, magic and imagination! From performer to audience member we are all drawn in by the way classical music can speak to our emotions in a way that words often can't.

But how can one access this enchanted sound world if they are Deaf or hard of hearing? Likewise, what can one do if they're experiencing their audio world fading through hearing loss?

Professional musician, teacher, producer and Deaf awareness campaigner, Eloise Garland, began to experience hearing loss around the age of seven, hearing a quiet constant buzzing and a random drum beat when someone with a low voice would talk. Throughout her career, she works tirelessly to promote full inclusion and access to music for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing and has agree to share her experiences with us today!


As a professional musician and Deaf awareness campaigner, what are the most common misconceptions you’ve come across in the classical music world?

I have come across many misconceptions in the classical music world, from the idea that hearing aids ‘fix’ a person’s hearing (they don’t!), to the assumption that tinnitus is a perfectly normal and acceptable part of being a musician (it isn’t and shouldn’t be!).

However, the most common misconception is that deaf and hard of hearing people can only experience music through vibration. Each and every person experiences music in their own unique way – for instance, some may use assistive technologies such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to increase access to sounds, while others prefer to use their residual hearing without amplification. The types and levels of deafness can also impact the way a person experiences music, so while one person might be able to hear low frequency sounds well, another might struggle with them.

On a personal level, I use a mixture of my hearing aids and visual information (e.g. reading a score while listening) to increase my access to music. Vibration hardly comes into it!

In your 2017 Radio 4 programme Listening without Ears, you talk about your reservations about “making music more accessible to deaf people without just exposing them to a limited new experimental music (focusing on vibrations) rather than all music”. Since then have you seen examples of people making the more tradition classical music more accessible?

Yes! The last few years have been extremely interesting and I’ve been privileged enough to collaborate with various organisations on a number of exciting educational and professional projects.

Perhaps one of the biggest and most memorable educational projects has been in collaboration with Music of Life, Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and Camden Music Services. In 2018 and 2020, composer James Redwood created two new compositions to perform at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Camden Schools Music Festival. The project involved some of the students at Frank Barnes, where they played the instruments they had been learning for two years - the cello, violin, or recorder. It is exciting to see these types of projects and opportunities developing for deaf children – they offer positive, memorable experiences for them to engage in music in a meaningful way.

More information about the 2020 project can be found here.

The video of the “A New Created World” performance can be viewed here – my students are playing on the main stage as part of the band!

On a professional level, I have been working with deaf flautist and Artistic Director of Audiovisability, Ruth Montgomery, since 2016. Audiovisability offers professional, mainstream platforms for often unseen, unheard deaf musicians and artists. By offering unique opportunities for collaboration and a high quality, accessible platform, it dispels the myth that deafness and music do not go together.

Thus far there have been three main projects, with a fourth in development, and each has explored music beyond the auditory. For example, “The Unheard World” explored themes around culture, identity, and displacement to build a musical and artistic narrative. The final result was a concert in which live music, BSL interpretation, art, and written subtitles came together to convey the complexities of the topic.

Importantly, projects like these show that making music accessible isn’t about making it simple; it’s about conveying a narrative sensitively using new, multi-sensory, and highly creative ways.

For a child with hearing loss wanting to learn a musical instrument, what would be your advice to them and their families?

In many ways, my advice would remain the same as with a hearing child – firstly, find out what instrument(s) they are most attracted to! I think most musicians remember feeling attracted to one or two instruments in particular – it could be to do with the sound, the look, the feel of the instrument, or even knowing someone else who plays it. No instrument should be ‘off limits’ to a deaf child, and there are deaf children out there playing strings, woodwind, brass, percussion – you name it!

On a practical level, I would always encourage parents to find a teacher who has some deaf awareness. It can often be helpful to meet with them in advance to discuss your child’s communication needs and work together to identify any concepts that could also be demonstrated visually.

Some useful tips for music teachers include:

- Make sure you face the child when you want to talk to them, and that your face and mouth are visible (to aid lipreading).

- Always be prepared to repeat, rephrase, or write down what you’re saying.

- Wait until the child has finished playing - or use a hand signal to indicate when they should stop playing – as listening to your voice while there is other noise going on is very difficult!

- Always write key words down on a whiteboard or in their practice book.

- Most importantly, maintain the same high expectations that you would have for a hearing child!

I am always happy to chat with parents and teachers about practical tips to make music lessons more accessible for deaf and hard of hearing children (or adults!) – do drop me an email via my contact form and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as I can!

I also take bookings for larger CPD/INSET training session with music services or organisations – again, do contact me and I will reply as soon as possible!

In your opinion, what more can be done in the mainstream music world to make it more accessible to those with hearing loss?

Fundamentally, I think we need to develop (and maintain) opportunities for deaf children and adults to be able to explore and learn about music in a variety of different ways. For example, organisations could begin by increasing accessibility to mainstream concerts through the use of subtitles and British Sign Language interpretation. Small and large venues can do their part by consulting with deaf professionals on how to make concerts more accessible for deaf audiences. Even the world’s biggest and longest-running annual music festival – the BBC Proms – features just one or two accessible concerts per year, and these are generally aimed at children or families. Increasing the number of accessible concerts to four or six would be a great start!

What would be your advice for any musicians worried about their hearing or experiencing hearing loss?

Always, always get it checked out. Even if you do not have any immediate concerns about your hearing, go for regular tests (every few years).

Help Musicians UK runs the Musicians’ Hearing Health Scheme which covers a full private audiological assessment (worth £100+), expert advice, and custom musicians’ earplugs (worth £140+) for just £40 (or £30 for MU members). It is well worth the money and I urge every musician to take advantage of this scheme.

For those who have been diagnosed with hearing loss and are looking to make connections or receive support, I recommend joining the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss group on Facebook. The group is a wealth of information about the latest technologies, hearing aid/cochlear implant programming techniques, and more. The group has been a brilliant resource for me and I couldn’t recommend it enough!

Thank you so much to Eloise for sharing so much with us.

If you have any questions or worries please use the links provided through this interview or contact Eloise via her website here.

Until next time!

Ruth x

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