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May 26, 2003

Hearing loss no problem for young local musician

From: Arkansas City Traveler, KS - May 26, 2003

Traveler Staff Writer

Joseph Jett's grandmother, Sharon Shelton of Arkansas City, gave him a table-top keyboard when he came to live with her as a young child. "I bought it for him as something I thought would help him when he was in his own little world," Shelton said Friday.

She couldn't have guessed then that, just eight years later, Joseph would become a gifted pianist and violinist. The 13 year-old is the youngest member of the Winfield Symphony and has been encouraged by his orchestra teacher to apply for a spot in the Wichita Symphony.

Jett had been placed in special learning programs as a preschooler because he hardly talked at all, and he was thought to be a slow learner. Earlier, as an infant, he had developed a high fever that doctors thought he could not survive. It wasn't until he was in kindergarten, at Frances Willard Elementary School, that he was tested and diagnosed as being clinically deaf.

"I got my first hearing aid when I was five," said Jett, who was accompanied by his grandmother Friday at the Red Cross Blood Drive at Central Christian Church. Jett volunteered to play piano and violin at the blood drive, which occurred just after students were dismissed for summer vacation.

After he first was diagnosed as clinically deaf, Jett was taken to a Wichita specialist to see if surgery could restore his hearing. But tests showed that nerve endings had been destroyed from the high fever he developed when he was only six months old. The fever had persisted for a month and a half, and his father, who was stationed with the Air Force in Florida had taken him to a Memphis research hospital for a diagnosis.

"The doctors couldn't find out what was wrong," Shelton said. "They didn't expect him to live or, if he did, they expected him to have severe brain damage."

In early grade school, Jett was fitted with an earmuff-type hearing device, Shelton said. It was an audio trainer that was connected directly to an amplifier used by the teacher. Joseph could hear everything the teacher said, but background noise, including student chatter, was blocked out.

Jett continued to use this hearing technique until he reached the fourth grade – by that time, he was a student at Adams Elementary School. "I got smaller internal hearing aids then," Joseph said. "I could hear the teacher well enough without the big hearing aids. (With the new hearing devices), it's just like normal hearing."

The previous year, Jett had been tested by school officials and found to be no longer an "at-risk student." That year, he was taken from the at-risk program and placed in a program for gifted students. He's been in the gifted program ever since, Shelton said.

Jett took his first piano lessons from an aunt who lives in Mulvane. He had traveled there to visit her during spring break. "She taught him the notes," Shelton said. "When he came back home, he was playing already, and I asked him if he wanted to continue to take lessons. He said yes."

His teacher, Tamen Eis, took him on as a second-year student, even though he had had no previous classes. Eis has continued to teach Jett in private lessons.

When Joseph began studies at Arkansas City Middle School, he took up the violin in orchestra class, taught by Shannon Gackstatter.

"She told me, 'Don't discourage him,'" Shelton said. "By the end of the sixth grade he was playing (violin) well enough that she allowed him to play in the year-end program with the seventh and eighth graders. This was a first."

Jett began playing in the Winfield Symphony this year, as a seventh grader. "He is the youngest person to have played with the symphony and the youngest member now," she said.

Asked which instrument – violin or piano – he likes to play best, Joseph replied: "Why does everyone ask me that question? I like both. I just like to play for people."

Jett said he likes classical music, and he plays a lot of Beethoven, a musician who suffered from deafness.

Besides music, Jett has excelled in other areas, both academically and in sports. In the sixth and seventh grades, he has maintained a 4.0 (straight-A) grade-point average. He also was named as one of the top 10 math and science students. And he received the school citizenship award and was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. This past year, he lettered in golf.

In addition to playing music, Jett also has composed some pieces. "I just finished arranging a song written for a string trio, for piano," he said.

When he finishes school, Jett wants to "do something in music," he said. "I want to teach strings – maybe at the college level."

©Copyright The Ark City Traveler