One Woman's Grand Passion for Music

By Yishane Lee

Nancy M. Williams joined the HHF board in March of 2012 and has been an active member since. She coped with the loss as a child, accepted it as an adult, and now has become an advocate for hearing research—all experiences she writes about in the Winter issue of Hearing Health magazine.

Williams has had an interesting career, going from two decades of marketing and management consulting (after earning degrees from Stanford and Harvard Business School), to growing an online music community through her online magazine Grand Piano Passion. She won the 2009 Lamar York Nonfiction Prize for a heart-wrenching essay she wrote about returning to piano playing after a 25-year hiatus, and which has spurred her writing as well as playing.

In her article for Hearing Health, titled “A Grand Passion,” Williams writes:

In kindergarten, after I sang “Three Blind Mice” too loudly on the big rag rug in our classroom, I was diagnosed with a high-frequency hearing loss. My parents, worried about the social stigma, refused the recommended hearing aid, a decision that boomeranged when I reached middle school. “You can’t hear secrets,” complained a girl with green eyeliner at lunchtime. “Don’t sit with us anymore.”  

I was devastated. My parents broke down and had me fitted with an aid, a behind-the-ear model, bulky by today’s standards.

My parents had acted with the best of intentions in a society that tolerated hearing loss even less than ours does today. Yet the incident in the lunchroom stayed with me for a long time. To compensate, I rarely admitted to anyone that I had a hearing loss.

Playing the piano again, and writing about it, and joining HHF led Williams to finally be fully open about her hearing loss. To do it required overcoming decades of shame, which she writes about openly both in our piece and in her magazine.

Williams has also been very involved with helping other musicians with hearing loss. She’s a huge asset to our organization, offering strategic advice and tips both as a businessperson and a consumer who uses hearing aids. We hope that you enjoy her story in the Winter issue, part of a special package about music, musicians, and hearing loss and tinnitus.

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