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