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Friday, June 18, 2021

‘Rediscovering Music’ a gift for people with hearing loss

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Rediscovering Music program has continued to give the gift of music to those with hearing difficulties for nearly a decade.

Audiologist and Orchestra bassoonist Kristen Sutcliffe has primarily led the program since its establishment and told Canberra Weekly it has been a highly rewarding experience.

“It heartens me when they come to me and say, ‘you know what, I bought a recording or I went to a live music concert for the first time in years’,” Ms Sutcliffe said.

“Just being able to open that up to people is really a fantastic thing to do because if that’s something important in someone’s life, we want to be able to keep going with that and not just chuck it to the side in the too-hard basket.”

While verbal communication is the main difficulty people with hearing loss experience, the inability to enjoy music is another factor that particularly comes into effect when the loss is more severe.

“A lot of people just end up giving up on music because, even with their hearing aid or cochlear implant, it doesn’t sound the same as it used to and that can be quite disheartening for some people,” Ms Sutcliffe said.

“These concerts came about to be able to have basically a rehabilitative approach to being able to enjoy music again with hearing loss.”

Running three or four Rediscovering Music concerts over the course of a year, the performances work as an accessible, open forum, with attendees encouraged to speak up and ask questions where necessary.

“I’m very much keen for people to ask questions whenever they want to,” Ms Sutcliffe said. “It’s a really hearing-impaired friendly place.

“It’s such an open forum that people can put up their hand and ask us to play something again so they can play around with even the volume of their device to give them the confidence to manipulate those parameters.”

When it comes to programming, simple, pared-down melodies with often just two musicians works well, as does performing music the audience is familiar with.

“A full symphony orchestra may just be too much for many people because it’s a great big cacophony of sound because of the distortion,” Ms Sutcliffe said.

“It sounds silly but playing something like happy birthday can be revolutionary … it gives them the confidence to then take the next step.”

A common fear around live music for people with hearing loss is having to endure a painfully loud experience, which is something Ms Sutcliffe looks to allay via the Rediscovering Music performances.

“With hearing loss, we often get something called recruitment, which is where the soft sounds are too soft and the loud sounds are painfully loud,” she said.

“With hearing aids and cochlear implants, we look to squash that down, so you have a reduced dynamic range.

“So, with speech that works really well, but with music the softs are softer, and the louds are louder, so it can be a difficult thing to listen to.”

The next Rediscovering Music performances will be on Tuesday 31 August 2pm and 5.30pm at Hellenic Club Woden; click here to register for the free event or to find out more.

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