Friday, April 23, 2010

Church Music and Hearing Loss

I wrote this in response to a leading question from a writer: "What's the point of singing in church?"
(Thanks Michelle! Go read her post here:
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As a musician who has lost the gift of hearing, church music is a very sensitive topic. Yes, I still can hear, thanks to two bionic ears, but it's really not the same. REALLY not the same. So I've given a lot of thought to the concept of church music.

I can still sing by myself, and that's one way not to have to worry about being in tune. I still sound in tune to myself, at least most of the time. And I really do worship that way. Sometimes, of course, I'm just singing for the joy of the music, which is different.

But I really miss congregational singing. With my cochlear implants, music in church (or anywhere) is often mostly kind of mush, or a dull roar. That's really hard. I can no longer learn new hymns or worship songs, or at least not in the context of hearing it sung in church. And the old ones have lost some of their life, with the concept of “melody” being rather negotiable.

At one point in my journey into deafness, I used an FM system with my hearing aids. I got the sound delivered straight into my ears, no distracting environmental noise. And although the sound quality was so much better that trying to understand anything with just my hearing aids, I came to hate it. I felt like I was alone listening to the radio, rather than being in the middle of a worshipping mass of people. Yes, I can worship to (with?) a song on the radio. But it's not the same as being there live and in person, with the music and the **community** flowing around me.

That “distracting environmental noise” was what gave me the sense of being part of something larger than myself. I was in orchestra and choir in high school, and making music in a group was fantastic. But church music is even better, a different *kind* of experience.

If someone is off tune, does it bother me? Well, yeah, sometimes. (Ok, be honest. It used to bother me a lot of the time. Hearing loss has really taken me off my high horse.) But even before I lost my hearing, I came to enjoy it (more)--as part of being in community. I began to learn to listen more to the heart of the person singing, and less to their musical skill. If someone is lost in worship as they sing, that draws me more deeply into worship, too--even if they’re not so very well in tune.

I find that I get impatient with the music sometimes. That’s a really novel experience. When they repeat a chorus yet another time, I’m kind of tapping my foot, ok, are we done yet. I never, *never* thought I would be that way. When I was a musician, I could go on and on and on, caught up in the music. I have much greater sympathy and empathy for people who walk into a church and don’t know the music, aren’t used to singing with people--I mean, where else to ordinary, non-musician people sing together on a weekly basis?

I should probably develop this into a carefully crafted essay. For right now I am posting this rather unedited version.