CBC Documentary


Hello readers,

I have not blogged for a while for a couple of reasons.  First, was writer’s block.  I understand that writer’s block has afflicted even professional writers, so I am not surprised it has happened to a lowly amateur writer like myself.  Second, I extremely busy this past fall launching our new Roger products.  But I have been inspired with some new ideas.  As such I will be doing a series of posts that will feature focus on the more severe hearing losses.

Meanwhile, I will provide you with a link to a Canadian Broadcast Corporation radio documentary that highlights my journey to participate in music.  I hope you enjoy it.

http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/documentaries/2013/11/24/draft-documentary-deaf-musician/

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Things to be Thankful for…


In Canada, this is our Thanksgiving Weekend.  While the originally designed to give thanks for the harvest, we generally use this holiday to share a meal with friends and family and reflect on all things for which we are grateful.  For me, the following represents things for which I am most thankful. There is no particular rank order here…

 

  1. Cochlear Implant Technology.  This technology has dramatically changed my life in enormous ways.  Simply put, without it I could not function.  Communication would be almost impossible.  I probably would have embraced sign language to a greater degree, but I would be limited to communicating to a much smaller and limited set of people.  I would have completely lost my ability to enjoy music.  Do I wish for improvements from this technology?  Sure.  Music perception and hearing in noise and are still challenges, but I have developed some additional compensatory techniques.  Still, a day does not pass in which I remind myself how my different my life would be without the CI.
  2. Wireless Microphone Technology.  While the the cochlear implant implant is amazing, it is the synergy of the FM system in conjunction with the CI that provides me even greater capabilities.  Adding FM technology allows me to use my mobile phone via Bluetooth, hear in noisy cars, restaurants, and bars, enjoy social events more fully, and enhances my ability to hear and perform music.  I wish more CI users would realize how much more they could get out of life if only they added FM or other wireless microphones.
  3. Music.  Music brings light to my soul.  It always has the ability to brighten my darkest days.  I am so grateful that I can still not only enjoy listening to music, but to perform it as well.  It has not been easy to keep music a part of my life.  I needed to experiment with vibrating platforms, compressors, equalizers, FM systems, and soundboards to make it happen.  Lots of money and time has been spent on this.  But it can be done.
  4. Family.  I have a wonderful, intelligent and beautiful wife that puts up with my shenanigans.  And I have a handsome, brilliant, and kind hearted son who is so full of passion.  I love you both.
  5. Health.  A weird thing happened the other day.  My son’s friend was looking at some pictures of both my son and I from his early childhood.  The friend remarked that I look younger today the I did 10 years ago.  That was such a compliment!  Losing 40 pounds of excess weight and getting into better shape has had the effect of turning back the sands of time.  Next week I will be completing a half marathon, something I never dreamed I would be capable of doing.  I am so grateful that I am finally on the road to better life.  It feels great.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Amie, Bass Guitars, and Good Health.


I have not posted in a while.  I needed some time off.  Amie, my sweet friend and hearing ear dog passed away on June 13.  She was such a big part of our family; her passing hit us all pretty hard.  I wrote many tributes to her already in my blog, you can read them here and here.  Amie, we miss you terribly.

Two happier items to talk about.  My band played another event on Saturday July 21st.  We raised over $800 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.  This time I really got the sound right.  I had all the settings tweaked really well so I could hear exactly what I needed.  Moreover, what pleased me most was my ability to keep playing the correct parts when our singer deviated from the song.  I was able to hear that we were not at the part of the song I expected and still played correctly.  In addition, my guitarist was able to glance over at me and mouth instructions.  It was such a massive confidence booster to know that we can screw up but still recover without anyone in the audience even knowing it.  For more information on how I play live music with my hearing loss click here.  Also, this link here talks about how I keep the beat.

Also, I continue to improve my health.  I started in March at about 260 lbs and I am now 221 lbs.  I continue to run, work out, and avoid eating most things that are white (Salt, sugar, starch-filled things, white bread, white pastas, creamy things etc).  I blogged about the weight loss here.

I will be back to regular blogging again soon.  Meanwhile, here is a picture of me on the far left in the black t-shirt with some friends at my Saturday event.  Next picture is with my wife enjoying the vineyards of Niagara region.

Cheers!

Hanging out with friends at the MS Fundraiser I did with my band Below the Belt. Thats me on the left in the black v-neck.

Enjoying time at a vineyard in Niagara Region with my lovely wife.

Research on Music Perception with a Cochlear Implant.


As you all know, I love music.  I wish I loved visual art or sports more, but I don’t.  I love music and with my verkakte ears, its not an easy task.  I decided to review the literature and see what the research tells us about music perception in cochlear implants (CI’s).

If you look at some of the earlier research prior to 2000, you barely see much reference to music perception in CI’s.  I think the researchers, and engineers were busy working on getting good speech perception.  Makes sense.  And as the speech perception abilities of CI users began to improve, interest began to shift to other important listening  abilities such as musical perception.

One researcher who has done a lot of work in this area is Dr. Kate Gfeller.  In a 2000 article (J Am Acad Audiol. 2000 Jul-Aug;11(7):390-406), Gfeller et al found that 83% of adult CI users reported diminished music enjoyment post-implantation.  In fact one third of the CI users even avoided music altogether as they found it to be an aversive sound.  These are not encouraging results.  But do remember that these folks received their implants in the 1990’s.  This technology is now 20 years old.

Looi et al, 2007 (Ear & Hearing: April 2007 – Volume 28 – Issue 2 – pp 59S-61S) did a study comparing the music perception of CI users compared to hearing aid (HA) users.  Note that the HA users were all potential CI candidates, so they all had significant hearing loss.  This study showed that while neither device (HA or CI) provided satisfactory music perception results, the CI users gave slightly better ratings than the HA users.  So now we are actually seeing some data showing music perception getting better with a CI, but still not great.

Another study by Looi et al in 2008 (Ear & Hearing: June 2008 – Volume 29 – Issue 3 – pp 421-434) looked again at CI users and HA users who were potential CI candidates. So again these HA users also had significant hearing loss.  On a rhythm recognition task, both groups did about the same.  On the pitch perception task, the HA users outperformed the CI users (oh oh, not good).  In fact many of the CI users needed two pitches to be at more than a quarter of an octave apart before the notes sounded any different.  Not good.  In western music you need to be able to hear a one semitone difference.

After reading this article, I checked what my skills were like using a CI only.  I had my brother play a bunch of two note pairs on a piano keyboard.  My task was to say if the two notes were the same or different and then secondly which note was higher in pitch.  For the notes above middle C, I was able to reliably report if the two notes were same or different even if they were only one semi-tone apart.  I was about 80-90% accurate at identifying which note was higher or lower.  For notes below middle C, I needed notes to be at least one full tone apart to get the same level of accuracy, but performance deteriorated as the pitches got lower.

So here’s the thing now.  Looks like I am not getting good low frequency pitch perception with the CI which is so critical for music.  Low pitches may not be that important for speech as the consonants are mainly high pitched and consonants give you speech intelligibility.

I therefore personally decided to use a hearing aid in my non-implanted ear.  I hear music much better whilst using a combination of a HA and a CI.  But is it just me?  No.  A study be El Fata et al (Audiol Neurootol. 2009;14 Suppl 1:14-21. Epub 2009 Apr 22) looked at 14 adults who continued to use a hearing aid in their non-implanted ear after getting a CI.  Subjects were asked to identify excerpts from 15 popular songs, which were familiar to them.  The presentations were done bimodally, with the CI alone and then HA alone. Musical excerpts were presented in each condition with and then without lyrics. Those subjects who had more low frequency residual hearing (> 85 dB HL in the lows) did much better on all the tasks with both a CI and an HA than either the CI only condition or HA alone.

Another study by Gfeller et al in 2007 (Ear & Hearing: June 2007 – Volume 28 – Issue 3 – pp 412-423)  also confirms the need for better low frequency hearing for music perception.  In this study, CI users which electrical only stimulation (the regular type of CI) were compared to subjects with a hybrid implant.  The hybrid implant uses a shorter electrode array for giving you the high pitches whilst still using a hearing aid type of air conduction for the low pitches.  Usesing low frequecny acoustic hearing significantly improved pitch perception compared with elctric only CI’s.  But before you go rushing off asking for a hybrid implant, you need to know that not everyone can get one of those.  You need to still have sufficient low frequency hearing.

So here’s what I can conclude from these articles:

1. The newer studies seem to show better music perception in CI users than older studies.  This is most likely due to improvements in technology in which the newer implants give a richer sound than the older devices.

2. Music perception with a CI via electrical stimulation could still be improved.  It seems to be related to the poor perception of the low frequencies.

3. If you still have some usable residual hearing in your non-implanted ear, use a hearing aid in that ear.

4. Help your ears by making music easier to hear.  Use some of the techniques I use by adding FM technology to your CI and hearing aid for either live music or with an iPod.

More Gig Pics…


Performing live music in a band is like a dream come true for me.  I still can’t believe that I am able to do this with my hearing loss.  On one hand, I am a bit pissed that I have a hearing loss at all, but the fact of the matter is that shit happens to all of us in one form or another. Hearing loss is the hand that has been dealt to me, but I am going to play this hand the best I can.  If it was not for cochlear implants, hearing aids and FM systems, I would have been really screwed.  But I am not.  This pictures are proof of that to me.  I am one lucky dude.

Again, I must thank my friend and professional photographer Arsenio Santos for taking photos of the event.  There were so many good ones to choose, but here are some of my personal favorites.

Thanks also to me awesome bandmates Deb, Luigi and Warren.  I love you guys!  Thanks also to my buddy Dave for doing the acoustic set.  And one more shout out to one of my best friends in the world, Ryan Switzer from Massive Tank Studios, not just for doing the sound, but for helping me become a musician.

Deb is such a passionate singer.

Looking cool in a B&W photo

Warren is a fantastic drummer.

Luigi singing and playing guitar. You are awesome Luigi!

I am having a good time, can you tell?

But I do need a haircut.

Awesome Gig Pics of Maxine, Dave and Pete…


My friend and professional photographer Arsenio Santos was so kind to take pictures of our event.  As you may recall, the first part of the show was a selection of acoustic songs.  Here we see myself on acoustic bass, Dave on his 12 string, and Maxine vocals.  Thanks Arsenio, the pics look awesome!  Looking forward to seeing the other pictures!

This is my buddy Dave.

Lovely and talented Maxine.

More pics of the lovely Maxine...she's much easier on the eyes than Dave and I.

Behind The Scenes with a Deafened Rock Star.


Ok, this title is wishful thinking.  Deafened, yes, but rock star, perhaps not.  We did a gig to raise money for a friend and colleague Warren Estabrooks whose organization is called “We Listen International”.  Warren and his team provide professional education, training and consultative services for professionals who work with children, teens and adults with hearing loss.

We started out the evening with some acoustic covers of some songs.  I played my acoustic bass whilst my buddy Dave played his 12 string and sang.  Later, my friend Maxine Armstrong, also an audiologist, did a beautiful rendition of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin.

My son’s Band Sticks and Stones were up next.  They played all original material that they wrote themselves.  Their sound is sort of “Indy” with jazz-like instrumentals.  Absolutely fantastic stuff.  If these guys had a recording contract, I am sure they would be hugely successful.  Check out their You Tube stuff here.  Also, you can download their songs here.

Finally, my bandmates and I got up to do about 18 songs.  I am so proud to be playing with these guys, everyone put in such a fantastic effort.  None of us are professional musicians, but we did our best to sound like it!

Speaking of professionals, special thanks to my good friend Ryan and his assistant Laura from Massive Tank Studios for doing the sound for the evening.  I love you guys!

Interestingly, while it is fun and exhilarating to perform music and have folks cheer for you, it is also quite stressful.  Why?  Because nothing ever goes exactly as planned.  The key is to not freak out, persevere, problem solve and find creative solutions. Lets take a behind the scenes look at the day to show you what I mean.

1 p.m.:  Start loading up the PA system, speakers, stands, bass amp, bass guitars, mics, cables etc etc.

2 p.m.: Start unloading gear at Pub.  First surprise.  Only one outlet box for all the gear.  Go and find more power bars and hope we don’t blow any fuses.

4:30.  Go to Music Studio to rehearse Free Fallin with Maxine.  Plan is to have two guitarist and one bass.

5:00.  Maxine still stuck in traffic.

5:15.  Rehearse with Maxine.

5:30.  Rush home to change.

6:00.  Go to Pub to finish setting up gear.  Three cables are dead, need to find replacements.  Deb, our singer needs a music stand.  Call wife to get her to bring one.  Forgot MyLink Receivers.  Call wife again to get those.

6:30.  My son has not arrived yet to do his set up and sound check.  He’s still at the tattoo parlor getting two new tattoos.  Really buddy?  On the day of the gig?  Is that a good idea?

7:00.  Supposed to start, but still setting up.  Someone has unplugged my TX300V FM from the Aux Out 1 and used it for something else.  I don’t think so people.  Deaf guy gets first dibs on sound.  Plus its my mixing board, so I get to call the shots.  Slightly tense conversations ensue, solution found.

7:40.  We start to do the acoustic set that was supposed to start 40 mins earlier.  First three songs are fine as we over-rehearsed these.  Maxine comes up to do her song.  Ryan was supposed to join us by playing guitar, but we ran out of inputs on the PA for another guitar.  Bummer, because while I love my buddy Dave who is playing guitar, he is rhythmically impaired.  Maxine sings like an angel, but I lose my timing.  Sound man Ryan sees I am struggling and becomes my human metronome.  I read his lips as he is counting out the time.  While I am playing some other folks with Cochlear Implants are requesting the MyLink FM receivers I promised.  Shit, they are still in my car.  Cant’ get them now, I am playing (for Pete’s sake!)

8:00.  Son’s band sets up to play.  No sound check because my philosophical artsy son decided to get tattoos earlier.  Their performance was fantastic, but the pub owners are complaining it is too loud.  Trying to get drummer to play as lightly as possible so everything else can be turned down.  All drummers are now unhappy.  I think all drummers were all born as Bam-Bam Rubble.

8:10.  I am using my son’s band as an opportunity to check my sound through the FM.  I discover the compressor is set wrong. Knee point is too low, compression ratio is too high and release time is too slow.

8:25:  Adjust compressor.  Hope its ok.  Run to car and get MyLink+ receivers. and hand them out.

8:30.  Start to play first set with my band.  Sound still not right.  Mouth to Ryan the sound man to increase vocals to Aux Out 1.  Reach behind me and increase knee point on compressor a bit.  Raise output on FM but over did it.  Sounds distorted.  It is peaking in the red too much.  Next song plan to lower it.  Can’t hear Luigi, the guitarist now.  Thankfully I know some basic chords on guitar, so I watch his hands to see what he is playing.  Luigi sees this, and moves a bit so I can see him play better.  He understands what I need.  I love you man.

8:35.  Discover I am not feeling the kick drum through my platform very well.  Look at mic on kick and discover its too far away.  Lower gain on FM.  Better.

8:40.  Move mic on kick closer, still not right.  But now I remember why…Warren, our drummer, is trying to play quietly (Quiet drummer…is that oxymoronic?).

9:10:  Finish first set, and take a small break.  Decide to play second set without my shoes on so I can feel the kick drum better.

9:25:  Start second set.  Sound is much better now.  I am feeling the kick drum on my platform through my shoeless feet  better now.  My timing improves.  Tweak the compressor a bit more.  Warren, the drummer, and I are communicating well via eye contact.  We are finishing our songs well.  If you pay attention to recorded songs, you will notice that they most pop songs don’t really end, but they are faded out by the recording engineer.  Live music requires a definite end, and getting everyone to finish a song at the same time is one of the challenges of playing live music.  We devoted an entire rehearsal to finishing songs!

9:50.  Sound is perfect now.  But that’s the last song.  Bummer.  We finally have everything perfect.

10:00:  Everyone is very kind with compliments.  Some of my brutally honest asshole “friends” also pay us compliments.  Hey, maybe we were good?  Actually, come to think of it, we were great.  Everyone loves our singer Deb, and they should.  She is a natural frontman (front-woman?) for a band.  I love you Deb!

10:15.  Tear down all equipment, load up cars, take equipment home.

11:30:  Go to Deb the singer’s house for drinks.

12:30 a.m.:  Son calls and says he needs to be picked up because his friends parents kicked everyone out of the house for being too rambunctious.  Hey, they are teenagers, what do you expect?

1:30 a.m.: Come home and unwind.

2:30 a.m.:  Go to bed.

Moral of the story.  Nothing ever goes as planned so don’t expect it.  Roll with it.

Hearing Not Required…


Shumka Dancers

I took my parents to see a Ukrainian Dance Troupe last night called “Shumka”.  This group based out of Edmonton Alberta (surprise, surprise) has been in existence for 50 years.  They put on an absolutely dazzling performance.  While my expertise on the art of dance is limited, I am certainly not ignorant to the elements of fine dance as I have been to about 10 ballets in my lifetime.  Last night’s performance, at least from my perspective, was every bit as technically sophisticated and beautiful as a ballet, but a heck of a lot more fun!

As I was watching and enjoying the performance, it dawned upon me that I was fully enjoying this event just like everyone else in the audience.  Sure, the dances were choreographed to music, but I heard that well enough. The music was not the focus of the performance, it was the dancers- their athleticism and ornate costumes.  I really did not need much hearing to enjoy this activity.  I just sat, clapped, and cheered like everyone else.

It seems that so many regularly occurring things in life are affected by hearing loss. Work, communication, enjoying television, theater, movies, music, going to a restaurant,  and going for drinks with friends, all require both technical assistive devices such as an FM system, and some accommodations from my family and friends in order for me to participate.  Not that I am complaining…I would not want to miss out on these important activities.  I am grateful that these devices grant me the necessary access and improve my ability to participate.

But its also nice to find exceptions to this through activities that are not taxing on the ears.  For me, these typically include hobbies such as fishing, archery, kayaking, hiking and photography.   And last night, it included dance!

Sometimes I wish I enjoyed more of the visual arts.  I have certainly tried…I have been to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Musee du Louvre and Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Met and MoMA in New York to name a few.  Sadly, visual art does not speak to me the same way that music does.  Perhaps I lack the training and education to fully appreciate the immensity of meaning these pieces of expression may hold.

In any event, there is much to enjoy in this world that does not require good hearing.  I find that it is quite beneficial to seek out these “hearing not required” activities to enrich our lives.  It also provides necessary relief from the challenges of hearing loss.  Its good for you!

For Family Day today, we are off to the Bell Lightbox (Home of the Toronto International Film Festival) to see a French film called Lancelot du Lac.  It will have English subtitles for all the viewers, not just me.  It should be fun!

What’s It Like To Have A Deafened Father.


This week’s entry was written by a person of whom I am immensely proud of and adore: my son Alexander.


Alex and Amie in Algonquin Park

Growing up with a father with a significant hearing loss is an experience that I have lived with for 17 years. As I write this, I am awaiting my father’s summation of morning routines, in which he will put his “ears” on, as I so boldly used to state when I was younger. This of course referring to the hearing aid and cochlear implant that he must put on each day before I can speak with him. Having a deafened father is not something that I see as common where we reside, so when I speak of this upbringing, it can only be based purely on my experiential knowledge and very little external influences.

There are many things that shape my father as the man that he is and the father that he is, and whilst his disability is undoubtedly a significant trait; with the power of today’s technology, it is not a difficult one to deal with. Certain aspects of my upbringing in this regard are difficult to recollect, as I have been accustomed to it being reality. And not reality in some form of bleak, cold, hard sense, but rather that I have never known any different. Growing up with a deafened father forces you to adapt to certain mannerisms that are prevalent in all people with this condition. Whether it means patiently waiting for my father to put on his hearing aid and cochlear implant before engaging in a conversation, or knowing to always get his attention by means of small hand signs or light physical contact, these things have become second nature. My father’s ability to engage in conversation and interact with me on a day to day basis is in no way diminished by his hearing loss, and if anything has increased the intimacy of our most heartfelt conversations. I say this because if his body language does not read as being fully immersed in the topic at hand, then I know from experience, and due to the fact that he would have difficulty expressing an opinion if he had not been fully listening and reading my lips that his response would seem distracted. This allows for a much more human feel to our household, as it removes a large majority of the potential for noisy dinner conversations, shouting across the house and scattered voicemail reminders of family plans.

As a young child, my father’s hearing loss did not provide any genuine troubles. The teasing on the matter from my cohorts would only exist as an extension of an insecurity, and a lack of terms to call me after the basics would be used up. However, as my mother and father instilled the values of confidence and compassion in me at a young age, I had the ability to recognize this as no substantial attack towards my father, but rather a last resort due to a lack of genuine teasing to conjure up. To draw upon a previous point, part of the reason it never bothered me is because I did not, and could not ever know any different. This was my father they were speaking about. Why should I care if they wish to tease, when my father had done so much for me? This was never became a prominent issue.

One joy that I have had the pleasure of sharing with my father is that of music. As he has mentioned in previous entries, playing and listening to music is no easy task for anyone with any form of hearing loss. This has been a struggle for my father since day one, yet he never hesitated to give me his utmost support when I decided to pursue music as a passion. In fact, he joined me on this and our basement (or man’s den as my mother would say) has now been transformed into a small recording studio. The values that music has brought to my life are innumerable and without my father’s utmost support, I may not have gone nearly as far as I have. Music has allowed me to grow intellectually, emotionally and has given me confidence I needed after traveling to play shows to people across Ontario. None of this would have been possible without my father’s support, and the many long nights spent listening to me practice and helping me progress. Also, as mentioned in previous entries, a huge silver lining in the cloud, is our hearing ear dog Amie. Growing up with a dog has changed the very essence of who I am, and my love for animals and living beings has grown to be insatiable. My father and I have matching Amie tattoos, which is something I will carry proudly with me forever. When my father’s laser eye surgery took a turn for the worse, as a child I jokingly stated “This is a good thing Dad! We can get a seeing eye dog now too!”. These are two great things that have come out of my father’s hearing loss, that I feel a father without such a condition may not have been able to offer to the same extent.

All in all, growing up under this has had immense implications on me. It does go against many of the typical father son paradigms that exist in the all too unrelatable parenting advice columns, and it has most definitely been different. It goes without saying that there are ups and downs, as in any family relationship, but the majority of them have not been anything that any other family would not face. It has changed my outlook on people with disabilities, culture, society, technology and opened my eyes to many things that I would not have been aware of before. In many regards, it truly has shaped me into who I am today.

 

Thanks son!

Song Sample and Gig Date!


Just a quick post this time.  My band, Below the Belt, will be playing at the Greyfriars Pub in Oakville, Ontario, Canada on Saturday March 3rd from 7-10 pm.

Exciting, because we will be playing 24 songs (2 full sets, we usually only get to play one set).  Also, my son’s band will be opening for us with a set of original material.  They are called Sticks and Stones and they are incredible.

My band does fun covers of songs from the 60’s all the way to present time.  We do songs by artists such as the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Big and Rich, John Mayer, Maroon 5, The Clash, the Tragically Hip, The Black Crowes etc.

We will be raising money for a organization called We Listen International.  This organization, headed by my friend Warren Esterbrooks, provides professional education, training and consultative services for professionals around the world in the fields of Auditory-Verbal Therapy, Auditory Rehabilitation, and Auditory Learning who work with children, teens and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families.

And now for your listening enjoyment, here is a sample of my band covering Stuck in the Middle With You.  Click Here.