The Perseverance of Sound: Part III

SayWhatClub (SWC) is pleased to welcome guest writer, deaf guitarist and drummer, Justin Krampert. In this final installment, Justin continues his story of hearing loss, how it has affected his music, and what it has taught—and continues to teach—him.  Part II of this series appeared on March 6, 2017.  


By Justin Krampert

Perseverance, part iii (see parts I and II)

On my musical-and-hearing loss journey, though, I continued to keep it a secret.  The more I played guitar, I found my musical ear developing too.  I started figuring out the pitches of appliances and other noises (that I could hear, anyway!), which amused my friends to no end.  I wondered if trying to hone my ears to listen for pitches possibly improved my hearing, but I doubt it.  Music dork that I am, however, I went so far as to figure out the approximate pitches of my tinnitus at the time…high C and G, and C# and G#, haha! 

A new guitar

I started listening to bands that used 7-string guitars, which sounded lower and heavier.  Thus easier for me to hear with my severe high-frequency hearing loss.  John Petrucci from Dream Theater (the ‘Awake’ album) and Steve Vai, were two of my favorite guitarists that set the bar insanely high for me.  They were true virtuosos in every sense, and their musicianship inspired and intimidated me endlessly.  I saved up for my first 7-string guitar.  “Sable,” as I would name her, took me a week or so to acclimate myself around the extra string, and became my main workhorse guitar for the next 12 years (and she’s still here!). 

“You seem to have a good ear. You know when things sound in tune . . .”

During one of my last semesters at MSU, I took a Beginning Jazz Improvisation class. I was the only guitarist there, and my 7-string caught the attention of the professor!  He was kind enough to allow me to stay in the class despite not being a fully matriculated music major, and told me, “As long as you can keep up, you’re good.”  I made sure that I did, and received what I consider to be an extremely high compliment from a man who was a MONSTER player on trumpet AND piano.  After our individual playing finals, he told me, “You seem to have a good ear, you know when things sound in tune, and you don’t play a lot of notes just for the sake of adding them, you pause and listen, which is so important.”  I was humbled to say the least.  I suppose having a hearing loss DOES make one pause and, “listen!”

New School

As I traveled to upstate New York for my second Bachelor’s degree (in Music Therapy), I wondered how I would adjust to the new campus.  I was concerned about new people, whether I could hide my hearing loss again.  What the next couple years would be like?  My time in New Paltz was only a couple years, but it was jam-packed (pun intended). While I did feel extremely out-of-place there, I made a small, close-knit circle of friends.  One of my new friends even wore big ITC hearing aids!  He was the only friend I confided in about my hearing loss, and he even let me try on his hearing aids…for the first time, I heard in a balanced, loud way, and inside, I really liked it! 

Each semester there, I performed in a small Jazz Guitar Ensemble, and we’d rehearse in a small basement room; close enough that I could hear just fine, especially since we were all there playing through a PA system and had a drummer, bassist, and pianist!  Surprisingly, in an ear-training class, my professor asked me if I had Perfect Pitch!  I laughed, thinking that Perfect Pitch was for people like Mozart and those famous guys!  But, she had me go to the Music Dept. Head, who also tested me, and she said I did, too.  It was pretty trippy, having a hearing loss, yet being able to find pitches!  The next few years saw me completing my music therapy internship, and then privately teaching guitar and doing music therapy work with kids who have ASD’s (Autism Spectrum Disorders).  However, something was different…

Another Drop in hearing

When I was around 28, I started noticing my hearing seriously dropping again.  I decided to take the plunge and go find a new audiologist, and do things on my terms.  My girlfriend took me to my hearing tests and I learned that my hearing had dropped to a Mild – Profound ski-slope loss. She was there with me when the audi fitted me with my first pair of BTE’s.  Having, “new ears” in over a decade was disorienting, to say the least!  I was devastated that I couldn’t even recognize Led Zeppelin on the radio!  I tried to be gung-ho and wear them out to lunch.  Big mistake!  It was so loud that I got nauseous and had to take them out. 

Hearing Aids

I slowly readjusted to them after all the years of going without.  My hearing kept dropping over the next few years, and I went through progressively stronger BTEs, as well as changed audiologists a couple more times.  I tried my second pair of BTEs with DAI boots and listening to my little ipod that way.  It was…interesting.  The harder music that I loved to listen to without my hearing aids, dishearteningly sounded somewhat like white noise through my hearing aids, so I’d usually end up just using my earbuds with the volume up louder.  My guitar sounded duller and quieter, and I also realized that I had lost a bunch of pitches on the upper register of the piano.  So it was an adjustment period for sure.

Hearing deterioration

Over the last few years, my hearing has kept slowly deteriorating and with it.  This has affected my self-confidence in music performance and overall communication with others.  I have become much more reserved and shy.  Since leaving university, I haven’t played a gig, instead becoming a “bedroom shredder.”  As of this writing, I am 36, and I have a hearing loss that starts at 70-80-ish dB, to 110-115 (severe – profound), sans hearing aids.  I went through 3 pairs of Starkey BTEs, eventually enjoying my Phonak Naida Q70UP BTE’s, along with a Roger FM Pen…devices that assist me greatly in hearing my professors in class.  Though even with these battery-powered helpers, I still encounter struggles.  By each day’s end, I am usually wiped from concentrating with my limited sight and hearing. 

Deaf musician Justin playing his guitar with a parrot on his chest

“For now I will continue enjoying what musiv-making I can, and I will always empathically FEEL music quite deeply.”

My music has been affected and I do feel anxious about my future as a Music Therapist.  I don’t know what I will do if I can no longer play and effectively work with clients.  That will be a road to travel if and when it appears.  For now, I will continue enjoying what music-making I can, and I will always empathically feel music quite deeply.  It will always be cathartic, intellectually stimulating, inspiring, and as healing as possible.  I encourage everyone to enjoy, and for those of us who have or do still play an instrument or few, keep making music whenever possible.  Yes, it very well may sound weird and perhaps you may even feel lost and/or discouraged.  I have to remember these words, too, when I feel down about my hearing.  I will pick up my guitars and hand-drums, or compose electronic music, and feel better, and in doing so, I realize and appreciate the perseverance of sound.


The Perseverance of Sound: Part II

SayWhatClub (SWC) is pleased to welcome guest writer and SWCer Justin Krampert, a deaf musician, who shares his story of hearing loss, how it has affected his music, and what it has taught—and continues to teach—him.  Part I of this series appeared on February 21, 2017.


By Justin Krampert

“I didn’t decide to become a musician until the age of 15, which is quite late.” ~ Evelyn Glennie

At 15 years old, my parents insisted I try a new, digital, ITC hearing aid.  Inside, I hated it…the way it felt, how lopsided I felt I heard, the way it sounded, everything.  It was assumed that I was wearing it at school, but I just didn’t.  High school offered, “Related Arts” classes and we went through Art, Music, Writing, etc.  I quickly found that I connected deeply to writing poetry and to group guitar classes.  I was a very early reader, which helped my love of literature and especially poetry. 

The first time I held a guitar, I knew deep inside that it was the instrument of my calling.  The few months we got to study were frustrating, because I wanted to be able to play well so quickly, and getting my hands to cooperate with what my mind heard, was always a task in patience and practice.  I was absorbing myself in bands like Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Alice In Chains, Dream Theater, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Type O Negative, Testament, Joe Satriani, and my favourite guitarist, Steve Vai. 

In the New Jersey winters, I shoveled driveways to save up for gear.  My first acoustic guitar was a beat-up classical from a family friend.  My first real electric guitar and amp was a used Ibanez GX20 and 30-watt Crate amp I bought off a friend in my guitar class, who had bought a better guitar for himself.

justin with his guitar
Music dork, 1995 – enjoying some Jazz chords (looks like an A13 to me, haha)!
justin jamming at summer camp
1996 – jamming with friends at summer camp!

In my junior and senior years, I was very fortunate to take a music theory/composition class with one of the music teachers at the high school, open to a select few.  I soaked up as much knowledge as I could, and wrote small guitar pieces along the way.  Additionally, I learned about some notation software.  I played in a couple bands and we performed during school shows.  It always gave me a rush, being on stage.  Sure I was nervous, but I was young, inspired, and ready to play.  All this time, however, I kept my hearing loss a deep secret.  After my teachers found out about it at my IEP meetings, I started wearing my long hair down to cover up the fact that I wasn’t wearing my despised hearing aid. 

Throughout this entire time of learning to play guitar, I did so without any hearing aids.  I lived in my denial, even though I knew subconsciously that I wasn’t hearing like everybody else did.  When graduation rolled around, while other rich kids got cars or other insanely pricey presents from their parents, I wanted a guitar.  I had my eye on a certain Fender Strat (cue Wayne’s World guitar store scenes!), and right before graduation, my dad took me to Victor’s House of Music in Paramus, NJ, where I beheld the beauty that I would nickname, “Goldie,” in dedication to our kind, supportive homeroom and photography teacher, Mrs. Goldweber. 

“Goldie,” my Fender 1968 Strat Reissue (made-in-Japan, 1999)

My University years, I felt, were most productive, inspiring, and creative.  From 1999 – 2006, I kept studying guitar, music theory, and composing.  I put my whole hearing loss history behind and reinvented myself.  I performed bi-weekly at our newly established on-campus coffeehouses, reading my own poems, jamming with friends, and playing my songs.  I really got into some serious guitar study, learning Jazz further, bits of Classical guitar, and just enjoying the good, open years of being a college student. 

My hearing loss, I felt, wasn’t so much of an obstacle…but I bluffed a lot and would miss out on dialogue, just letting it slide instead of asking for repeats.  I started joining in the drum-circles, learning techniques from percussionist friends and teaching myself other aspects.  I went out and bought my first drum, a Remo Earth Djembe.  I really liked drumming, because it was even more tactile than guitar.  It was loud, and I wasn’t as concerned about a drum being so out-of-tune as apparently a guitar would be (drums tend to hold their tuning for longer periods of time than guitars do).  Rhythms would start simply, then build, they would remain constant and steady, more easily accessible to my hearing loss.

justin playing a djembe in a drum circle
2002 – Drum circle!

On my musical-and-hearing loss journey, though, I continued to keep it a secret…