SayWhatClub

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.  

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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.

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The Perseverance of Sound: Part I

SayWhatClub (SWC) is pleased to welcome guest writer and SWCer Justin Krampert, a deaf guitarist, who shares his story of hearing loss, how it has affected his music, and what it has taught—and continues to teach—him. 

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By Justin Krampert

“Music is about communication… 

it isn’t just something that maybe physically sounds good or orally sounds interesting;
it’s something far, far deeper than that.”
~ Evelyn Glennie

Emerging into the world at eight weeks premature, 2lbs. 2oz, my miniscule body could literally fit in the palm of your hand. I was supposed to be born on Halloween (of all the nifty days!), but I was a Leo instead of a Libra. The universe obviously had a much different scheme in mind for me. Not escaping unscathed, my sight was permanently affected by Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). I had a Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) surgery to repair a hole in my heart.  This left me with a long, gnarly, Frankenstein-esque scar up my torso’s left side. And lastly, the very small bump atop my skull reminds me of the life-saving yet ototoxic drugs that were administered.

One of my earliest hearing loss memories was at 2 years old, climbing the stairs at hospital. A small room of intimidating doctors put a strange cap with wires and contraptions on my head. But, it was painless and over before I knew it. I was already wearing glasses, when at age four or five, I received my first hearing aid.  It was a Siemens BTE for my left ear (which had a mild-severe ski-slope, high-frequency hearing loss).  My right ear, which only had a mild loss, did not get a hearing aid.

I remember the audiologist being a nice lady.   She sat me in the tiny booth with headphones, listening for the beeps and words. The day when she put the hearing aid on me, she fiddled with the volume and tone controls, saying, “BAH, BAH, BAH!” into the microphone as she set levels. My mum secured the apparatus to my glasses with a piece of yarn, every day. Thus began the foray into semi-bionic living. Elementary school included speech therapy to help me pronounce my ‘s’ and ‘sh’ sounds, and ‘m’ and ‘n.’  They sounded exactly the same.

At nine years old, we began learning instruments in music class. The music teacher, however, was not much of a empathic person, and once.  When I tried to advocate for myself by asking if I could move closer to see and hear better, she scornfully sighed, saying, “Oh, Justin, relax!” Up unto this point, apparently, I had been a carefree, little self-advocate, politely asking people to please face me when talking, so I could see their faces. I withdrew from speaking up for myself for many years to come. I did not ask for closed captions, and I know I always missed parts in shows and movies. It was the first time where I began to form a philosophy in life: I realized that we should want to help people, and their accommodation requests, when we can; doing so genuinely.

I also began feeling ashamed of my noticeably different ability status.  I wanted to hide my hearing loss. My first formal music experiences were disheartening ones, unfortunately.  My parents decided that if I wanted to try guitar lessons, that my hearing loss would impede learning or enjoyment.

So, I went through elementary and then middle school, not wanting to play anything remotely music-related. I did however, begin to find music that I could enjoy.  Closing my eyes and feeling completely free to allow myself the catharsis of my imagination whilst listening. I had my own little cassette Walkman.  I would put the volume up on the old foam headphones so I could hear it. My eclectic tastes in middle school ranged from the first Enigma album, to Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, to even some rap. Respectively, I enjoyed the ethereal textures, the distorted guitars and winding riffs, the visceral tones, and the piano parts and drumbeats. I always had difficulty with understanding lyrics. So the instrumental part of the music was and is still, the first thing that catches my attention.

Middle school years are described by most as being pretty rocky, and my obviously thick glasses and ugly hearing aid made me a target of continuous ridicule. Back in 3rd grade, I got a Siemens ITE hearing aid, as my parents felt it would be less noticeable, but with my very short hair, it just stuck out even more. My hearing took a noticeable drop, but I denied and tried to fake hearing better. In 7th grade, I made the choice to secretly stop wearing it. When it squealed I would be totally unaware of its high-pitched feedback. My only indication of it malfunctioning was classmates looking at me, pointing and laughing. Luckily, I had Dawn, a fellow classmate, to gently tap me on the shoulder and point to her ear discreetly, so that I could fidget with it, while she chided others for their immaturity.

Interestingly enough, despite trying desperately to hide my hearing loss during my middle school years, I found an ASL class that met weekly, which I attended for a few years until it disbanded. I enjoyed it immensely, and even earned my ASL interpreter badge in Scouts. At the time, I knew I wanted to go into some kind of helping profession when I grew up.  Despite being discouraged by others (because of my low-vision and hearing difficulties) from becoming a Paramedic, I still wanted to find a way to help others. I was quite inspired to actually go to college at Gallaudet, and become a teacher of the d/Deaf. Then music found a way back into my life as I was going into high school…

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Working With Hearing Loss

When I was 13 years old, someone taught me how to french braid hair and that pretty much sealed my fate. I practiced and practiced until I got good enough to braid several girls hair during school breaks. I loved playing with hair and knew I wanted to go to beauty school right after high school.  Working with hearing loss wasn’t something I ever imagined.

For 26 years now I’ve been doing hair. In my career, I watched a few hairdressers who continued to work up into their 80’s and I figured I’d be one of those too. I’d come in a few days a week for those dedicated clients and for the socialization. I didn’t think of retirement. I wanted the smell of perms, the sound of hair dryers and all that chatter that went with it.

For 23 of those years, I’ve been wearing aids. My hearing loss is progressive and it started to get in the way at work about eight years ago. At first, I couldn’t understand people on the phone occasionally then it went to not understanding them half of the time. The clients in my chair repeated often and they were patient because I told them I didn’t hear well. Then I couldn’t hear people with my blow dryer on and it eventually got hard to hear people when another hairdresser or two (or three) had their blow dryer on.  Working with hearing loss became challenging over time.

My hearing loss progressed so much that when I moved to Salt Lake and tried to start again (I didn’t realize how trained me and my old clients were), I had a helluva time. This is when I found out noise renders me deaf. I went to work in a big, beautiful salon which was an acoustic nightmare. Seven hairdressers with at least seven clients made for a lot of noise which bounced around wrecking what little hearing I had left. I could not hear if more than three of us were working at a time. I became a deaf, mute, boring hairdresser which was not good for building a clientele in a new city. Daily frustration and anxiety plagued me so I quit. I couldn’t do it that way anymore.

I found a job working in an assisted living salon. Only two of us worked at a time but hair dryers and blow dryers could overwhelm my hearing. However! These were older people who for the most part either experienced hearing loss themselves or understood it because their significant other had it. I worked there for over a year and truly enjoyed the people I worked on. Too bad the boss continually shorted my checks and started erasing tips. I quit and tried looking for another assisted living salon to work in and found nothing open. It seemed once hairdressers found that little niche, they dig in and stay, except for the lady I worked for. She didn’t keep anyone long. Discouraged, I gave up doing hair for a few years.

Last summer I moved to a small town and found a one person salon. Maybe I could do hair again? I could control the noise, the radio volume and only one blow dryer would be on at a time, mine so I started to work again. The acoustics weren’t the best but overall, I heard better than normal in salons. Unfortunately, the town was too small and I couldn’t make my way. Options opened up again in Salt Lake City for other areas in my life but what about work? Small salons seem to be nonexistent in big cities. I’ve seen ads for studio salons (one person) for rent but there’s no way I could afford that without a clientele. What to do?

Scenes from working in Salt Lake a few years before flashed through my mind. The foremost scene was that awful experience in that big, beautiful salon. No way did I want to go through anything like that again. Then I thought about my time in the assisted living salon and how much I enjoyed working with the people there. Thoughts upon thoughts tumbled around in my mind. The what if’s started…

If I was totally honest with myself, I mostly worked with retirees and snowbirds since I’ve been doing hair. I get along with them best and they seem to like me. I know I’m supposed like working with all ages but kids are too hard to hear and young adults want wild colors I’m not wild about. What if I recognized that older people are my niche, my preference? To me, they are much more interesting people to talk with. How can I make this work with me?

Thinking…thinking, the wheels turning. What if I became a mobile hairdresser? I’ve done it for friends and family in the past so why not make it a business? It wouldn’t take much to start because I already have most of the equipment.

What if I catered to those in hospice care and the home bound? Maybe I could give them a little happiness and make enough to live on. I bet they would teach me a lot too. If I could make this work, it would be ideal for my hearing loss also because it’s a one on one situation and I get by lots better that way. Maybe this could work for everyone???

So the puzzle pieces started coming together. Within a week of moving back to Salt Lake, I checked with my the licensing department who told me to go to the city health department who told me to go to the county health department. There were a few hoops to jump through but I got it all done. I’m now waiting for my business license to come to begin.

Will I be able to make a living at it? I sure hope so. It feels right and for the first time I’m not stressing out about it at all. I feel sort of adventurous. I’m not looking to make a killing, I’m looking for a way to do what I love until I’m 80, like I originally planned in spite of my hearing issues.

Working with hearing loss can be a challenge but it’s not impossible. Not to say there isn’t a crushing blow now and then but who doesn’t have their challenges and setbacks in life? Afterward, healing time is allowed and I’ll admit, it took me over two years to want to do hair again after all the problems I had with my hearing and a shortchanging boss.

After that, I had to rebuild my self respect and I needed the distance/time to look back over it objectively to see how I could do things different in the future. Thanks to my family motto “It’s not a mistake, it’s a learning experience,” I keep learning and moving on. Thinking outside the box seems to help too.

Audrey Hepburn once said, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible!”