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November 26, 2004

Why music is an important outlet in a silent world

From: Belfast Telegraph, UK - Nov 26, 2004

Deaf Talkabout : Bob McCullough
26 November 2004

"Here is love vast as the ocean, loving kindness as the flood

When the Prince of Life our ransom, shed for us His precious blood."

The first lines of this hymn at a recent church service were strangely moving, and although Evelyn and I had lost our hearing as young children the words projected onto the screen still tugged at the heartstrings.

Thousands of our deaf population retain enough hearing to appreciate the uplifting influence of good music, and many more, like myself, who have no hearing whatever, are still programmed by the songs and music we heard before the door closed on us. I was eleven when I lost my hearing and still have vivid memories of the old songs on my father's wind-up gramophone and of the week before Christmas when he took me to hear the Messiah.

We miss these sounds very much - the emotion, the stimulation; the relaxation and uplift that follows when beautiful music and inspiring words unite in transporting us to a new level of happiness.

We found an echo of it at a recent funeral watching a young girl sing the 23rd Psalm.

But how exactly can we define happiness? Buddha is quoted as saying that thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness, he said, never decreases by being shared. Can we who have been deafened help others in the same boat?

Deafened people are a breed apart and unlike the signing deaf do not have a unique method of communication and communal meeting places.

Just over a decade ago Queen's University developed a special research department focussing on the problem and examining ways to estimate the number and suggest ways of establishing a social life on their own terms.

Some of these deafened people wrote to tell me how important music was to them and how they found an outlet for their frustration by humming old tunes when alone in the house and saying how much they enjoyed singing along with classical music on TV when accompanied with subtitles and close-ups of the singers.

But what distinguishes these people from the deaf born is that for the most part they suffer alone and lack the collective unity of the signing community.

The signing community also enjoy hymn singing, but in deaf churches or in integrated hearing meetings the emphasis is on the beauty of the signs and they go some way to make up for the loss of music by using powerpoint to project evocative images onto the screen as a background to the words of the hymns.

One positive aspect of the research instigated by Queen's was that it turned the spotlight on the need for a cure for deafness and not just a palliative. These deafened folk became enthusiastic supporters of research into cochlear implants.

They were among the first to apply for the operation and those I have spoken to agree that it has led to a better quality of life and in some cases a restoration of the spiritual uplift only music can bring.

2004 Independent News and Media (NI) a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd