Friday, July 8, 2011

POPing Up

Welcome to a new blog post we're going to call "POPing Up." If you have an interesting story or will be going to an exotic local, please write and tell us about it. If we like it, we'll send you a free POP t-shirt -as long as you promise to send us a picture of you wearing it. We'll post the photo here along with your story.
Our inaugural post is from our good friend Dickie Reed who recently  POPed up in Guangzhou, China where he was visiting a deaf orphanage. Dickie is an advocate for cochlear implants and has an amazing story. Please read the following interview to learn more about his story and the wonderful work he is doing. 
Hero Spotlight: Richard Reed
Richard Reed doesn’t just love music, he lives music.  And for much of his life, music has been a constant presence and passion.  He has played Hammond organ and piano with a wide array of rock and roll blues bands including Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Roomful of Blues, The Schemers, Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, Otis Rush and Hubert Sumlin.     
A musician and artist in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, Richard lived for 35 years with normal hearing.  But in the early 1990s, he lost his hearing as a result of a reaction to ototoxic antibiotics.
His hearing loss was rapid, so Richard found himself seeking an ear, nose, and throat specialist and audiologist almost immediately.  He was fitted with analog behind-the-ear hearing aids and, from there, used progressively more powerful and technically sophisticated models for nine years, all the while struggling to not only hear, but to keep music and performing a part of his life.  But Richard was becoming unable to enjoy music at all.
As ironic as it was for a musician to go deaf,” he says, “I realized, too, how many friends’ conversations revolve around music – what’s new, who’s good, who’s playing where.  Losing music was horrible, but the loss of everyday conversation was worse.
Although he knew he was a candidate for a cochlear implant, Richard was put off by misinformation and the idea of hearing through electrode stimulation.  After nearly a decade of adjusting and relying on hearing aids, which proved to be little help, he eventually met people in online forums who offered honest, candid information about cochlear implants. 
In 2002, Richard received the Nucleus 24 Contour.  While he soon noticed significant enhancement in his ability to hear and understand speech, he found music through the implant to be very disappointing at first.  “Within weeks of my activation, I thought music sounded odd, but felt great,” he says.  And he wondered if that was as good as it was going to get.  But with patience and practice, music began to sound great, too. 
Richard says his aural therapist helped him immensely.  “He used to sing songs I’d never heard, and make me sing them back to him.  It helped my pitch perception.
In the early days of his cochlear implant experience, the piano sounded so far out of tune that Richard stayed away from it completely.  “It was as if someone had pulled all the keys off and put them back in the wrong places.  Only a handful of notes, around the C below Middle C, sounded correct, albeit played by a giant kazoo.  Those few notes would serve me well when I began the process of stretching my new ear back into shape.”
It was back to basics for Richard, starting with scales like Do-Re-Mi.  From there, he began to make progress.  And then it was time to start playing with bands again.
Richard read that his music perception could improve by trying simple familiar songs.  He tried several different songs that he remembered, but they sounded too different than his memory of them.  But after a lot of frustrating early attempts at listening, he found Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” CD.  He remembered hearing the song “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” back when he was in college.  He didn’t know the words, just the basic structure, that it had a lot of verses and no chorus except for a one-line refrain.
I put it in the CD player, pushed the start button and was immediately tempted to hit stop.  Dylan’s wailing harmonica was way too much info for my still-new ear.  I turned it down, kept listening and got past that part.  The melody wasn’t easy to hear, but I could tell what he was singing about.”
Richard looked up the lyrics on the Internet, which he recommends for any CI user when listening to a song for the first time through their implant, and read through all the words he couldn’t understand.  Then he played the song over and over again. 
I must have listened to it fifty times over the next two weeks, and at least once a week since.  It might not work for anyone else, but was a musical CI epiphany for me.”

Soon, Richard was enjoying his favorites again, including Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, and many rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and pop bands that had disappeared from his ears. 
They were all sounding great again.  In a word – wow.” 
Although he now sits in with different bands, Richard says his favorite gigs these days use a guitarist or two, one singer without a lot of harmonizing, an upright bass, drums, and himself – the happy sideman – on piano or accordion. 
Guitars, especially amplified acoustic ones, sound great – loud, but not overwhelming.  A big thumping bass sounds almost as good as it feels; and drums have always been easy.  My own instruments have been the hardest to get used to, but I sure can’t complain.  My CI works better than I had dared to hope.”
Once again able to enjoy, listen to and play music both live and in the studio, Richard is an independent advocate for the HOH and CI community.  Recipient of the 2003 Helen Kurtzer-White Traveling Fellowship, Richard attended the International Federation of the HOH in Helsinki Finland and has recently been awarded a full scholarship to Gallaudet University's Certification in Peer Mentoring Program.