I haven’t posted any updates on the ear because, honestly, there’s not been anything much to report. It is what it is, and the hearing won’t return, so I’m learning to deal with it.

Unfortunately the new year brought new notes to it, though. My tinnitus got worse as the ear went bad, but sometime in the past few weeks I’ve been blessed with something new. I’m now hearing notes. I checked and while I only hear one pitch at a time it is all slurred … and it goes between some sort of F# (it’s been flat, it’s been sharp) and a G# (some intonation issues there as well). Microtones are heard … it’s not just a full half step or step. And it just goes on and on. The timbre is sort of a nasal, electronic sort of thing. Very strange.

My “normal” tinnitus is rather like wires that sing. Does anyone else hear that? Sometimes the wires outside the house seem to sing — not sure others have noticed that but I’ve heard them since I was a kid, so it’s not about this crazy ear — but I hear a very high pitches and just goes on and on. I can’t name those pitches (just too high for me, and I can’t quite zero in on them), but I know it’s more than one pitch and they, too, are close together.

So that’s it as far as “news”. Yes, this new issue is frustrating, but one can’t really do much about tinnitus from what I’ve been told, and at this point I’m just continuing to play and teach.

Next week I play English horn on the first and last works on the concert “Automation“, and you can bet I’ll be wearing earplugs: we are doing John Adams’s Short Ride In A Fast Machine and Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. Both can be quite loud.

I think the program is creative and I do believe it will be a crowd pleaser, but we’ll know for sure when it happens. I just hope we get an audience. Things haven’t been the same since Covid. Sigh.

22. October 2023 · Comments Off on Encouraging / Discouraging · Categories: Hearing · Tags: , ,

Two videos. Two sides to ever story?

This first is older, so perhaps things have improved. I know the person speaking is now with UCSF and is the one doing research on musicians and cochlear implants — the one I mentioned that I could request to join if I did opt for the cochlear implant.

And then this … an oboist!

I wasn’t sure I even wanted to write any more about the hearing issue, but then something happened today which I’ll share at the very end of this for a bit of a laugh … and that made the rest of it okay for my head and heart. But I’ll start at the very beginning (a very good place to start):

Wednesday I went to see the audiologist. She had implied she might be able to get my hearing aid to work somehow. After she updated it (I wonder if I could have done that on the app. Hm. I suppose I should have asked!), I put it back in and she asked how things were. Well, they were awful. Just lots of horrible distortion. Plus I still couldn’t hear the little “welcome notes” it always plays when I insert it. So she lessened something on the computer (she adjusts things there as she looks at the screen and sees some sort of diagrams and don’t even ASK me about that because I’ve no clue, aside from seeing that she could remove things from the low frequencies and that sort of thing). Since I HAVE no low frequency hearing she nixed that all together. Still distortion. She pulled everything back. Eventually I said I could go ahead and try it for a while to see if I could deal (and if my brain would finally not hear the distortion). Fat chance, I knew, but at that point it was that or nothing.

I went home. I put my phone up to the left ear while playing music. Distortion. That was about it. I honestly couldn’t hear anything of value otherwise. I played music on the computer with the hearing aid in. Still distortion, but not as horrendous. I took the hearing aid out. NO difference in the volume and no distortion. So never mind. Obviously it wasn’t doing a thing! Perhaps the hearing aid is dead to me, I thought. As dead as my ear, I suppose.

Friday was a meeting at the ENT department. I was assigned to ENT-otolaryngologist Dr. Seth Pross. I immediately thought he was fabulous. I brought along my hearing aid in case he wanted to see it or have me try it, but it was clear he didn’t think it was even a possibility for me. He actually thought I was there to start moving on getting a cochlear implant and I explained my misgivings. He clarified some things, but understood why, as a musician, it might be challenging. He gave me some links to read and I could even contact someone from UCSF where they are doing a study of musicians with cochlear implants (but I suppose I shouldn’t bother unless I get the implant). Meanwhile I told him, “I now have this horrible high pitched F# in my right ear.” I had noticed it the day before when I walked into our bedroom and while it sometimes disappeared it was quite bothersome. I told him I was hearing it right then, in fact. With that he quickly sent me to a hearing test because he wanted to be sure I wasn’t losing my hearing in THAT ear as well. But I did the hearing test and he said all was well with that ear. I again told him the high pitch was still there, but sometimes it made another funny sound. I also told him that if I turned my head one way I didn’t hear it. He suggested tinnitus can behave oddly sometimes. So we talked for a while, I was told to schedule an MRI (to rule out a tumor, which was quite unlikely so no, I’m not worried), and I went on my way.

When I got home the high pitch was just awful. BUT I later realized it was only in our bedroom and the attached computer room where I am now typing this. Crazy making! So it was in our bedroom and it was in the Doctor’s office. But not in the rest of our house? Ridiculous.

To add fun to my day I then had to go for a bone density test. I am really living the high life, I tell you!

Then it was lessons to teach, dinner to eat, Rick Steves to watch. And back to my computer room I went. Doggone high pitch noise was there and getting louder! I had already turned off my computer and printer to see if one of those was making the noise (but why, then, was it at the doctor’s office as well?!). Dan suggested I’d need to unplug everything and then plug things in one by one to see if something was the culprit. I said I’d try that tomorrow maybe, but then I realized the sound seemed to be coming from a certain area in the computer room.

Well waddya know?! It was my darn hearing aid! The thing was in its case but sort of loose in there I guess, and was apparently given some sort of feedback or something. Heh. No wonder I heard it at the Doctor’s office as well! It was in my purse on my lap while I was talking to him. (But hey, the Doctor didn’t hear it, nor did an intern? I think they need their hearing checked. Hah!)

So that’s the funny part that is causing me to write all this. And the good news? Obviously my right ear is working quite well with high frequencies. it was an F#7 I believe. And it was loud, loud, loud!

Meanwhile … I will continue to read about a cochlear implant, but the Doctor suggested I wouldn’t want to use it in the orchestra until I adjusted to it which could take six months to a year. So would it be work it? I would then hear people talking to my left. I would have directional hearing again. There are definitely plusses. Restaurants and parties would work for me (right now they really don’t). I’d also have this thing attached to my head that looks bionic. I’d have a huge thing behind my ear. And they’d be drilling into my skull. I don’t think of those as a plus. But I’m not saying yes or no quite yet. I will think. Ponder. And do more research.

PS If anyone who read this already has done the cochlear implant thing I’d love to hear about it. I’m especially interested in hearing from someone who plays an instrument like oboe, clarinet, or bassoon — one that includes a reed in the oral cavity. I worry that that might cause issues.

03. October 2023 · Comments Off on Hearing Conversations · Categories: Hearing, Ramble · Tags: , , ,

First of all, I have to say I’ve been so very grateful for the responses I’ve received regarding my journey of hearing loss. I linked yesterday’s post to some social media places and I was just so touched by all the comments. So many loving people are in this world!

I don’t plan on writing about this every day — or even every month! — but today I thought I’d mention a bit about how hearing conversations has changed.

When I was younger I was the Best Eavesdropper Ever. In a restaurant I’d be listening to several conversations at once (although we all know that means I wasn’t being as attentive to the one at my own table as I should have been!). Hearing loss changed that. If there is more than one conversation going on my brain sort of shuts down. It’s just too much information, I guess, and it all become a jumbled mess. Restaurants are the worst for this, and there are some restaurants I can no longer go to because they are just too noisy and I want to scream. I must say that the outdoor spots that opened up during Covid have really been quite the blessing for those of us with hearing loss!

At orchestra this past week there were times I couldn’t hear the conductor because there were people nearby chatting while she was talking. Again, my ears just seem to say “forget it!” That is so darn frustrating and if I were the confrontational sort I might have lost it and said something. Instead I just shut down. I don’t like to shut down, but it’s my way of coping. I wish more people in orchestras realized how distracting those conversations can be. It’s true, in fact, that others around me — those with two good ears — were equally frustrated, so it’s not just us hearing impaired folks that are affected. I will never understand why some people will talk when a conductor is giving instructions. Even if the conductor isn’t speaking to them I find the chatting pretty darn rude.

Okay, rant over. Promise!

When Dan and I were on our trip and out walking I’d look over at him and say, “What?”, thinking he had said something. Nope. It was someone to my left instead (we try to always remember Dan needs to be to my right), but because I don’t hear in the left ear my right ear informs me that the speaker must be to the right. It’s kind of crazy making.

Sitting in the English horn chair in the orchestra is quite nice for me since I’m to the left of the oboes … I can hear them! Sitting principal in opera I’ll still hear the principal winds, which is quite important, and I DO hear those to my left, but it’s as if they are coming from my right. Again, crazy making! But I will Make It Work. Period.

Teaching isn’t a problem. One on one is just fine. I hear my students quite well, both when they play and when they speak (well, except the ones who are nearly whispering … I have to work with the shyer ones to get them to speak up!). One on one in any situation is always comfortable, so that’s great.

Oh … and not music related, really, but at church I now sit in a pew on the right side, but I sit at the far left so no one is to my left. That works well. I usually wear my left ear plug because the amplification frequently means I’ll experience distortion. When we sing it can be strange — sometimes I simply can’t hear myself at all. Hm … perhaps that’s a very good thing!

I suffer from tinnitus. This is not uncommon for musicians, since we are exposed to loud noises (well, music) so frequently, and in our younger days who thought of wearing earplugs!? I also had a bad bout (who knew migraines could cause hearing issues?) that brought this on which I won’t bore anyone with yet again (I blogged about it a number of years ago and it’s not necessary to go on about it).

This morning, though, the ear is screaming louder than it’s ever been. My left ear is so loud that I couldn’t go back to sleep once I woke up at 5:30. I finally pulled out the iPhone and found an app for white noise. It helped, though the ear also pulses (like blood when you hear it pounding, rushing … if you know what I mean) so the white noise pulses which is annoying. I’ve since looked at a few options for the sound and the higher the frequency the happier my ear is. If it nearly matches the pitches I hear it nearly cancels it out. So I’m sitting at the big computer now, which is connected to the stereo, and I’m playing this sound that nearly makes me sane.

Oh c’mon … stop your laughing! What I meant was “as sane as I am capable of being.” You knew that, right?

Please, younger musicians (older too, of course!) wear your earplugs! You can’t get rid of hearing loss and tinnitus doesn’t magically disappear completely. Your ears will thank you for it. Or at least they’ll remain silent on the matter. I will never “hear” silence again, and that makes me very sad.

(I confess I still struggle with earplugs. I hate the clacking sound I hear from my tongue hitting the reed. Of course I should use them as much as possible. Sigh.)

Imagine an artist who puts on clouded glasses in order to paint. Or a ballerina who adds weights to her feet. Now consider a musician who puts in earplugs: not a rock star, who’s protecting his ears from deafening noises, but a classical soloist who by comparison works in near silence, and who believes that filtering out sound leads to a more nuanced performance.

Meet pianist Steven Osborne and cellist Alban Gerhardt. They’re both world-class soloists who will be featured at Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival, which starts Wednesday in Millennium Park. And they both consider earplugs as essential to their music-making as the instruments they play.
About 15 years ago, Osborne started to hear a quiet high-pitched noise in his left ear. It came and went; he didn’t think much of it. After a while, it seemed to move from his left to his right ear. And then, alarmingly, one day it stayed. A doctor determined that Osborne had developed tinnitus from practicing too loudly in a small room.

There’s no way to cure tinnitus, but earplugs can keep it from getting worse. Osborne was custom-fitted with a special “musician” pair of earplugs, which filter out a calibrated amount of noise while allowing other sounds to enter.

Osborne discovered that it was helpful to practice with the devices, and shared this with his friend and collaborator Alban Gerhardt, who doesn’t have tinnitus. Curiosity piqued, Gerhardt tried and liked them. He said they forced him to listen more carefully, and he found it easier to hear the “core” of his cello sound, to get to its essence.

RTWT

Read Online

They had rehearsed the piece only once, but already the musicians at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra were suffering.

Their ears were ringing. Heads throbbed.

Tests showed that the average noise level in the orchestra during the piece, “State of Siege,” by the composer Dror Feiler, was 97.4 decibels, just below the level of a pneumatic drill and a violation of new European noise-at-work limits. Playing more softly or wearing noise-muffling headphones were rejected as unworkable.

So instead of having its world premiere April 4, the piece was dropped. “I had no choice,” said Trygve Nordwall, the orchestra’s manager. “The decision was not made artistically; it was made for the protection of the players.”

The cancellation is, so far, probably the most extreme consequence of the new law, which requires employers in Europe to limit workers’ exposure to potentially damaging noise and which took effect for the entertainment industry this month.

But across Europe, musicians are being asked to wear decibel-measuring devices and to sit behind see-through anti-noise screens. Companies are altering their repertories. And conductors are reconsidering the definition of “fortissimo.”

Alan Garner, an oboist and English horn player who is the chairman of the players’ committee at the Royal Opera House in London, said that he and his colleagues had been told that they would have to wear earplugs during entire three-hour rehearsals and performances.

I read this and more here

Hmmm. I think that comparison is a bit faulty.

I understand why musicians don’t want to be forced to wear earplugs. I don’t wear them unless I have to. But if things are too loud it’s simply unwise not to wear them. You can’t undo the damage to ears, and time won’t change things in most instances. It’s not like a bad haircut.

FYI: if I have a solo you can bet those earplugs are on the stand. I don the earplugs when things are so loud you don’t hear the oboe or English horn on their own.

Protecting the hearing of orchestra musicians just became a little more complicated in the US with the release of a new policy from OSHA, the federal agency responsible for workplace health and safety. The new policy declares that the simple provision of earplugs is insufficient, unless all other administrative or venue-renovation options have been exhausted first.

Pin Drop Acoustics has an interesting blog post about OSHA, the new policy, and what this might mean for orchestras. I’ll be curious to see where this takes us.

I wear earplugs some of the time. I hate them, but I wear them. After my whole what-I-thought-was-a-virus story (you can read a bit about it by going here, I had to purchase some. I should have purchased them many years ago. There is no way I can wear them if I have a solo, but if I have a solo the orchestra is playing softer anyway. If the orchestra is blasting the earplugs go in. I have to rely on my years of playing to count on playing with a good sound, as I can’t hear what I’m doing very well. I have to deal with the sound of my tongue clacking (not sure what else to call it!) on the reed. I have to deal with being a wee bit unsure about intonation. But no one can hear me, so there’s that.

But what is the solution to noise exposure? PinDrop (as I’ve now nicknamed him/her) mentions some. What I don’t want is for us to never play above a mezzo forte (fat chance!). Certainly placing louder instruments in spots that aren’t directly behind musicians helps. Sometimes we can play a bit less fortissimo, too.

I do think every musician should go in for an annual hearing test. And every musician should own a pair of musician’s ear plugs. I have these, although I only have flesh colored ones. Gee … I think colors would have been fun! But I’m not about to spend another $215 (or more; I’m guessing prices have risen since I purchased mine).

27. October 2010 · Comments Off on Auditory Transduction · Categories: Hearing

I found this nearly understandable.

Well, okay, maybe not all that understandable for this old brain … but closer than I’ve gotten before. And since I’m interested in how our ears work these days (or in how my left ear doesn’t quite work right any longer) it was a good find.

Now if only someone could find a way to cure this tinnitus and hearing loss my left ear has suffered. (Whine, whine, whine!)

In case you are wondering if the video is perfect, it has one error from what I read at the actually YouTube page. So I’ll share that with little conversation with you (

Comment: Awesome video, very well explained! But there is an error. The video showed nerve impulses firing? from the 3 rows of outer hair cells in the organ of corti. Action potentials are only transmitted to the second order neurons synapsing with the INNER hair cells. Still a great video though

Reply from the maker of the video: You are absolutely right – a very good observation. Of the literally hunderds of viewers’ feedback I’ve gotten, you are only the? second person to notice.

So now you know even more than you knew before.

Unless, of course, you already knew all of this.

30. September 2010 · Comments Off on Are We Ever Happy? · Categories: Hearing

Many musicians (myself included) complain about decibel levels. Many of us have suffered hearing loss or other woes. But now that earplugs are required one group is not happy.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence has ordered its bandsmen to wear earplugs to conform with health and safety laws.

All military musicians will now be required to “plug up” before playing their noisy instruments to protect their hearing.

The charity RNID said it fully backed the move.

But some bandsmen are concerned it could impair their performance, making them play out of tune or out of time.

RTWT

I think it’s mostly that we, like most people, don’t like being told that we have to do something. But I could be wrong, of course. I do wonder how many of the members were already using earplugs.

I still struggle using mine. When they are in I hear my tongue clacking away, and I lose all sense of involvement in the orchestra, as I feel very removed from everything. I guess the only solution that would make us all more happy would be to stop blasting away quite so much.

Except maybe then the brass and percussion wouldn’t be happy? Dunno!