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May 14, 2007

Deaf student finds joy in music class

From: The State - Columbia,SC,USA - May 14, 2007

Hitting a high note


His lanky frame gyrating, Brandon Brock imitates the kids who grapple with a bass twice their size in his orchestra class.

Spindly fingers grasp the neck high above his head. Face in rapture, he wraps the other arm around the instrument’s girth and plies the strings with an imaginary bow.

“There’s nothing wrong with Brandon except he can’t communicate,” his mother said.

He uses that natural comedic talent to communicate eloquently with his body because he can neither hear nor speak. Even when he signs, it’s with embellishment.

He plays the viola for real in his Castle Heights Middle School sixth-grade class. They were practicing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” last week.

His eyes never strayed from his interpreter, who signed each note and rest in front of the class. Fellow violist T.J. Halsey often helps him find the correct page and piece.

“It must be hard not to hear,” said T.J., 11, the same age as Brandon.

T.J. doesn’t know how to sign. “We just have our own way,” he said.

All the sixth-graders devote two weeks each to trying chorus, band and orchestra, then decide which musical field they will pursue for the rest of the semester.

“Brandon said his dream was to play the violin, but he couldn’t feel the vibration,” orchestra teacher Emily Thompson said. “So we gave him the viola.”

The viola’s sound is deeper and richer, so Brandon could feel it. His eyes lit up.

Thompson’s, too. In her 18 years of teaching music, she had never had a deaf student. Now, she’s learning sign language.

Brandon takes his academics in a class for the educable disabled.

Orchestra is his favorite class.

“It makes me feel happy, important,” he signed.

“He likes to feel like the rest of the kids,” his mother added.

Christy Brock said her son was 4 months old when diagnosed as severely to profoundly deaf. He could hear sound only at about 110 or more decibels — the level of a train or plane.

At a year, he was fitted for hearing aids. Two years later, his hearing declined to about 50 or 60 decibels, so he received a cochlear implant, a device that helps deaf people hear from inside the head.


Brandon’s mom and his dad, Donnie Alford, sent him to the S.C. School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg, a residential school.

“When he came home, he drew a stick person and signed “friends,” his mother recalled. “He had somebody to sign to.”

About a year ago, Brandon began to complain that the implant “hurt.” It was too loud. Several more tests proved his hearing had improved. With hearing aids, he now can hear speech sounds, about 20 to 40 decibels.

Brandon wanted to live at home with his family and enrolled at Castle Heights this year.

It’s difficult to begin learning what the sound of words mean when you’re 11, but Brandon is working on it. After all, his girlfriend attended the orchestra concert last week. He wants to become a comedian, a field that probably will require speech.


During his year in public school, Brandon has lost much of his shyness, according to Tammy Tyree, his school-appointed interpreter.

“He’s a joy,” Tyree said. “I truly enjoy coming to work. He’s just overflowing with personality.”

That’s in the car, where he turns the radio up full blast and cuts a few dance moves with his upper torso, and in the school hallway, where he offers passers-by a high-five.

“He gets frustrated,” his mother said. “He feels left out.”

Suddenly, Brandon stops, bounces backward. He gropes and discovers an imaginary wall. His hands follow it until he finds an imaginary doorway, then he proceeds.

He’s finding his way.

Bair is a reporter for The (Rock Hill) Herald, a McClatchy newspaper.

© 2007 and wire service sources.