The Shared Experience of Music

I’ve written often about music, just a few weeks ago in fact, and how much I’ve missed it since I lost my hearing. I recently wrote this post for Psychology Today and want to repost it here, because I came to a different understanding of my sadness about losing music: the loss of shared experience.

“In international surveys, people consistently rank music as one of life’s supreme sources of pleasure and emotional power,” Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times recently. “We marry to music, graduate to music, mourn to music.”music-notes-on-staff-clipart-dt6xgz8t9

The inability to hear and appreciate music is one of the most frustrating aspects of hearing loss. I was never a musician but I was a music lover from my teenage years until my early 60’s, when I lost most of my hearing.

The joy of a glorious piece of music could bring me to tears. It might be something as exalted as Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, or a Verdi duet, a Puccini aria, a Mahler symphony. Otis Redding, Bruce Springsteen, Emmy Lou Harris — all have enormous emotional impact for me. For others, it may be something completely different. But the loss is the same.

Making that loss even more painful is the fact that music is so often a shared experience. Music heard in a place of worship, the opera house, the concert hall, the outdoor arena is intensified by the shared experience.

Like many people, I suffered from serious depression when I lost my hearing, and I think a large part of that was because I could no longer hear music.

If you are a therapist working with a patient who is losing their hearing, it’s important to recognize the magnitude of that loss. Not only the loss of a sense, the loss of easy communication with others, but the loss of music, “one of life’s supreme sources of pleasure and emotional power.”

I’ve written elsewhere about tips I’ve learned through personal experience and from others to learn to listen to music again. Those tips and other practical advice about living with hearing loss can be found on my personal blog at katherinebouton.com.

I refuse to give up on music, so I accept it even with compromises. It’s far better than no music at all.

9 thoughts on “The Shared Experience of Music

  1. This cannot be said often enough Katherine.. and folks with hearing loss should not run away from music too quickly…. find your way back and feel the music you cannot hear. It’s still there in the heart, soul and body…Thanks!

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  2. Hi Katherine, Do you read music? If so sufficiently to follow a score (maybe of one or several instruments) as it goes along on YouTube while the music plays- how much of which you can hear I don’t know. But if you can read some and hear it some you might enjoy that. As always, I find your posts really interesting. Dee

    Cell: 914-489-9434 Compositions on YouTube by RW https://www.youtube.com/playlist?feature=edit_ok&list=PLkA0OdB8-buCWSsDfSusO81wGkv6tH7pU Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  3. Thank you Katherine. Though it is not a cure, the sharing of similar experiences is a deep comfort to those of us who walk the same path.

    I was a voice major in college. I enjoyed music at that applied level for many years. It was a major shock to realize I could not recognize familiar music any longer, or even know if I was on pitch. It seemed sudden and unexpected. Music seems like so much incomplete noise any more. There are times when a piece sounds familiar but it is rare. Certain elements in the audio spectrum are just no longer there. Sometimes it’s melody, sometimes it’s rhythm.

    I do try. Memory serves me well. I know what it is supposed to sound like. I sometimes close my eyes and imagine… It doesn’t always work. I haven’t given up completely. So I have a choice: sink into depression (been there. done that) or carry on at some other level of life enjoyment. I choose the latter.

    I journal, blog and carry on lively correspondence. Life is too startlingly brief not to engage others at whatever level is available to you. Music is priceless. But for me, it is not a deal breaker. If you can’t hear it any longer, focus on what you can hear.

    Forgive me if I sound too certain of things. I’m not. I work on this every moment of every day. I drink the hope potion every morning and every night that someone will find the answer.

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  4. The loss of music has been huge for me. There was always music or singing in our house when I grew up. And we all played piano. Now it is all flat to my ears. I hear percussion well, but otherwise it is just a mass of disjointed sound. I feel the loss most acutely at Christmas. But I miss it all the time….

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    • Can you remember music in your head? That’s some comfort. I find just listing my favorite pieces of music makes me hear them. I do listen with video when I can. That helps. especially if lyrics are also available.

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      • I remember in the documentary, “The Lady in Apartment 6: How Music Saved My Life,” Alice Herz-Sommer, who was for a while the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor(!), mentioned that no one can ever take away the music in your head and that you can always go there secretly. 🙂

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      • Yes, I posted this on my FB page and many people have commented on the music they remember in their musical memory. Most are pieces I know too, and the very mention of a title sets the music going in my head. You are so lucky to be married to a musician! I wish I could hear him better. (I’m assuming this is my Kate Gray .. or maybe you’re someone else?).

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  5. I’m not sure if my last post made it on there, but I was remember something Alice Herz-Sommer said in, “The Lady in Apartment 6: How Music Save My Life.” She was a pianist and Holocaust survivor and her joyful outlook on life is really inspiring. I remember her saying that you can always have the music in your head and you can always go there secretly. No one can take it away. 🙂

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