Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gift of Sound - Deaf Girl with Cochlear Implant Plays the Piano

Here's Holly with her mother. Holly contracted meningitis at age 1 that took the world of sound away from her. By age 1 1/2 years old she was fitted with a cochlear implant. Before the menigitis Holly was exposed to a world of music in her mother's household since she is a musician. Because of the early exposure to music and sound, the quick intervention to get the implant and the continued interaction with sound, music and voice has helped shape Holly into a musically talented pianist.

In February 2001, just before her second birthday, her right ear was fitted with a cochlear implant – a surgically inserted electronic device that provides a sense of sound for people who are profoundly deaf. Seven years later, another was fitted in her left ear. The doctors played us a simulation of what music would sound like to Holly – I was horrified because it was just white noise. "Holly is going to hear music," I kept saying to myself.

I continued teaching the piano because we were short of money, but it was difficult spending time with hearing children. I was determined to try to put right what had gone wrong, to get Holly back to where she would have been had she not been ill. She had a lot of speech and music therapy as part of her rehabilitation after the meningitis and we constantly repeated words and sounds to her.

It was when Holly started entering piano competitions last year that I realised she had a very special talent. She'd been having lessons since she was seven and, although she's only just turned 10, she's already at grade five – most children get to that level only when they're much older.

She's improving all the time. I'm always surprised and shocked by just how much she can do. It's an amazing feeling to see her playing – a mixture of elation and sheer relief. Some children don't seem to have the right energy in their hands and arms to play, but she does.

The scientists who work on cochlear implants are confounded by what she has achieved musically. They are baffled by her progress and have no idea how she has done it. When she entered a national piano competition in May, the adjudicator praised the fact that she appeared to listen to the sounds she was making – her whole body, he thought, was involved in the process of making music. He didn't know that Holly was profoundly deaf – when her piano teacher told him at the end of the afternoon he was shocked.

I'm convinced that the simulation we originally heard of how music sounds with a cochlear implant is not how Holly hears it. The brain is complex and adapts to many situations; somehow, Holly has made sense of it all. She loves music and improvises at the piano, sings and composes all the time. She also plays the cello in the local string orchestra and sings in a choir.
Words of her special talent is getting around as you can see. Holly, please don't ever stop playing the piano and use your God-given talent and the gift of sound to the best of your ability. Enjoy and have fun by making the best of what you have. Since I started playing the piano at seven, I know what it was like and how fun it was to do it. Here's a picture of me at age 8 playing the piano at a piano recital. I still play the piano as you can see.

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