Musicians

Hyped Up Now, Hurting Later

By Yishane Lee and Lauren McGrath

In an interview, longtime healthcare professional Bob Kambic warns about the health risks of the over-amplification that is becoming increasingly common at recreational events.

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What got you interested in the topic of the dangers of loud entertainment?
I am 75 and a grandfather. Recently I was in Detroit for an event in which my grandchildren participated. The finale of the event was held in Ford Stadium, a football venue. The electronically amplified sound was deafening even wearing my noise-canceling headphones.

The 30,000 or so people in the stadium were subject to what in other places would be called torture. I wondered, is there a way to tell the organizers they are harming our young citizens, the future of our country?

As a retired healthcare professional, I have a half century of experience in the healthcare field and more than 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals. This got me thinking about noise levels in entertainment venues. Raising awareness of this public health problem needs to be done.

Why is the music so loud?
Consider a musician playing an electric guitar in front of a crowd. She will hear her music from an amplifier. But she then finds that she likes it loud and turns the small knob up. After weeks or months that level is not satisfactory and she makes another turn up.

Over time, as the louder sounds gradually diminish hearing, it becomes necessary to turn the knob up more and more. For music professionals, this is called increasing the gain, which is one way to increase the volume of sound from the speakers. The other way to increase volume is to turn up the signal coming out of the speakers themselves.

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When musicians play to big crowds they now have amplifiers and systems that produce thousands of watts of power and can project over 100 decibels (dB). This technology is also used for recorded music. It “entertains” but it also may harm the listeners’ ears. Musicians and their producers know that “loudness does not equal quality”—but that caution can get lost in the need to entertain.

By 2022, live music industry revenue is projected to be worth $31 billion worldwide, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Like other industries, the money is the driver. To me this means the live music industry will continue to use larger and louder electronic amplification.

The electronically amplified sound is now also ubiquitous at rallies and sporting events, both professional and collegiate—or even younger—to hype up the crowd.

What can we do to protect our hearing, and especially the hearing of children?
Earplugs. I was happy to see an article in a music industry publication saying that the purchase of custom musician’s earplugs is one of the best investments a music industry worker can make. They didn’t recommend earphones, mixers, digital equipment, or music instruments—just earplugs. Frequent concert-goers should also invest in custom musician’s earplugs.

For children, this is a tough question because kids don’t want to be told what to listen to and how loud the sound should be. But there are a variety of products for hearing protection. The first are simple foam earplugs, widely available at hardware stores, pharmacies, and online. The disadvantage is that they must be pushed into the ear canal and may not fit all size ears. (See “8 Pairs of Earplugs in 4 Noisy Settings,” next page.)

The next step up is over-the-ear earmuffs that cover the ear entirely. They are long-lasting and work well but they are also big and bulky.

Finally there are noise-canceling headphones made by audio or electronic equipment manufacturers. I use battery-powered noise-canceling headphones on airplanes and trains, and was wearing them at the event at the Ford Stadium. You may want to explore the varying prices and technology. Many can also play personal music through wireless and/or wired connections.

Besides using hearing protection, what else can you do?
Take action against unnecessary noise. Groups of parents can petition their schools and sports teams to reduce amplification at indoor and outdoor events. Decibel meters are inexpensive or free as smartphone apps and can be used to show managers and administrators the sound level at events, and when the volume reaches dangerous levels at over 85 dB.

The music and electronic sound industry is in control of this problem because of the amount of money in the industry, but also because well-known musicians such as Huey Lewis and Eric Clapton, who are open about their hearing loss, are helping to raise awareness. Media coverage and local action can bring attention to bear, and over time the industry may become aware of amplification as a health problem for everyone, including the audience, not just for those in the industry.

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Bob (Robert T.) Kambic, MSH, is a retired health professional who worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is a current visiting scientist with the JHU Medical School Division of Health Sciences Informatics and plays and sings American traditional music using acoustic instruments.

Receive updates on life-changing hearing research and resources by subscribing to HHF's free quarterly magazine and e-newsletter.

 
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On a Quest

By Sue Baker

From his earliest days, the concept of sound consumed musician and inventor Les Paul. How did sound work? Why did the record player produce sounds different from the player piano? Why does the sound of the train change as it moved down the tracks? Why did the body of his acoustic guitar vibrate when he plucked the strings? How could he make just the strings vibrate?

Although best known for his solid body electric guitar and industry-changing recording inventions, for Les the quest always came back to sound, even in his later years. “I’ve spent my life looking for the perfect sound, trying to build the perfect guitar to play the perfect note,” he wrote in his 2005 autobiography, “Les Paul in His Own Words.”

One of Les Paul's hearing-related inventions.

One of Les Paul's hearing-related inventions.

In the 1960s, Les’s eardrums were ruptured due to playful roughhousing. The resulting infection and, later, mastoidectomy surgery, left him with a hearing loss. He wasn’t happy about the hearing aids’ sound quality for music.

I met Les when I was the executive director at a museum in his hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin. We were creating an exhibit about his career. Over the course of what would be the last decade of his life, our friendship grew. Two years after Les passed away at age 94 in 2009, his business manager Michael Braunstein asked me to work at the Les Paul Foundation.

During one of my visits to Les’s home in 2001, I asked him about an unusual piece of equipment in a corner. “Oh, it’s just an experiment I was doing,” he said. “I was trying to replicate how the human ears work.” He was a tinkerer by nature and necessity, always wanting to invent something to fill a void or to improve what was available.

Musician Jon Paris says Les’s audiologist (whom he met at New York City’s Iridium Jazz Club, where Les performed every Monday night) told him that Les “drove him nuts—in a good way—constantly demanding better quality from his hearing aids.”

Another friend, Chris Lentz, says that Les worked with Marty Garcia of Future Sonics to improve his hearing aids. In a note to Chris, Marty wrote, “Throughout our years together, Les validated just about every voice coil transducer Future Sonics developed.”

In a 2008 interview in Audiology Today, Les talked about how he wanted to improve hearing aids for music. He cited the importance of extending the audio range to capture more of the harmonic structure than what is needed for speech. Les also wanted hearing aids that could be worn in the shower and would work optimally when using the telephone.

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Les Paul’s 103rd birthday would have been this June 9. He would have been gratified to see how far hearing aid technology has come.

Sue Baker is the program director for the Les Paul Foundation. For more, see lespaulfoundation.org.

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5 Critical Facts About Hearing Protection

By Laura Friedman

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month. How many of these facts from Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) do you know?

Fact #1: Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is acquired from excessive noise

  • ~30 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels on the job

  • Nearly 1 in 5 American teenagers are expected to acquire hearing loss largely due to overexposure of loud sounds

  • 25% of Americans age 65-74 and nearly 50% of those 75+ have disabling hearing loss

  • Approximately two-thirds of service members and veterans have NIHL or tinnitus, or both

  • Many veterans also have processing disorders as a result of blast or high noise exposure

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Fact #2: NIHL is preventable. The measures needed to prevent NIHL are simple: “Walk, Block, and Turn. Walk away from the sound source, block your ears using ear plugs, and turn down the volume,” advises Nadine Dehgan, HHF’s CEO.

Fact #3: Musicians are 57% more likely to experience tinnitus and are almost four times more likely to develop NIHL than the general public. Sound onstage can reach up to 110 decibels (dB), the equivalent of a jackhammer. Prolonged exposure to loud noise causes hair cells of the inner ear to be damaged, leading to permanent hearing loss.

Fact #4: A portable listening device at maximum volume (105 dB) is louder than heavy city traffic, drills, noisy subway platform and equal to a table saw. Blasting the volume in earbuds hurts hearing. It is estimated that 20% of teenagers, an age group that frequently uses portable listening devices, will suffer from hearing loss from overexposure to noise.

Fact #5: Steps to identify and prevent hearing loss should begin at birth. In 1993, only 5% of newborns were tested for hearing loss at birth. Thanks to HHF’s instrumental role in passing Universal Newborn Hearing Screening legislation, today that number is 97%. Early detection and intervention helps diminish or even eliminate negative impacts of undetected hearing loss on social, academic and emotional development in children with hearing loss.

Receive updates on life-changing hearing research and resources by subscribing to HHF's free quarterly magazine and e-newsletter.

 
 
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Finding a Community of Musicians with Hearing Loss

By Joanna M. Eng

At eight years old, Jennifer Castellano learned that she had perfect pitch—and found out that she needed hearing aids for a mild to moderate hearing loss in the middle frequencies, known as a “cookie-bite” loss. Now as a performing pianist and composer with two original solo albums, she has been featured on classical radio programs and has written music for an orchestra and a music teachers’ association.

Jennifer wrote about her unique experiences as a musician who has hearing loss, as well as a lifelong visual impairment caused by endothelial corneal dystrophy, in Making Music with a Hearing Loss: Strategies and Stories. She also serves as secretary of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss (AAMHL), a nonprofit organization led by Wendy Cheng.

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Leading up to AAMHL’s 2017 conference for musicians with hearing loss (July 13–16 in New Jersey), we talked to Jennifer about her music and how AAMHL has been a part of the journey.

 

How have the challenges differed between having a hearing loss and having a visual impairment?

My vision is much like my hearing.  Even with corrective lenses, my visual acuity is 20/300.  I cannot see things far away, but if I am up close I can see fairly well.  Without my hearing aids I can't hear too much, but if the sounds are really close to my ear, I can make them out.

But I can tell you that I have gotten two completely different reactions.  Since I was small, there were always resources made available to help me overcome my visual impairment. However, I was given no resources to help with my hearing loss. 

I didn't begin to talk until I was three-and-a-half years old. When my parents took me to a speech therapist, she advised that I would begin speaking when ready. My parents thought I was a late bloomer. They didn't consider hearing loss at that point because they were so focused on my vision problem. 

My mother spoke much louder than the average person (she claims it is because she is from the Bronx) so that is probably one reason why I was able to fool people for so long.  When you have a cookie-bite loss, it is easy to fool people because it’s like “oh, but you’re hearing these high and low frequencies fine.”  I never understood too much in the classroom though, especially when classmates spoke.  My teachers thought I was spacing out and not paying attention.

I did not have an FM system in school and did not become aware of what an FM system was until I was a second-year grad student.  When professors would comment on my piano tone sounding too percussive, I had no clue what they were talking about because I couldn't hear and tell the difference between tone qualities.

I currently wear Phonak Certena hearing aids in both ears.  I don't use any other listening devices when playing solo piano, but if I am playing with other instruments, I may have one of the performers wear my FM transmitter.  For example, when  guitarist Charles Mokotoff and I played a duet together, he wore my transmitter around his neck and it picked up the sounds of the guitar quite nicely.

What has been your involvement in AAMHL? How long have you been a member?

In 2007, I found the organization by doing a Google search.  At the time, I was a second-year grad student who was struggling to hear one of my professors in class and was looking for some resources. My hearing loss was now moderate to severe. It had changed in my early 20s, which is when the tinnitus started to kick in.  I wanted to know if there were other living musicians with hearing loss like myself.  I contacted Wendy, and the rest is history. 

It wasn't until 2015 that I began serving on the board as secretary, so I helped in planning the 2015 conference.  We met online at least once a month and discussed how the convention was going to work.  We would talk about the equipment we needed to make the event accessible for people with hearing loss.  I got to witness all of the hard work Wendy puts into this organization.  It is truly amazing what she does.

You played in ensembles with other musicians with hearing loss through AAMHL. What was the experience like?

I played mostly in duos.  I played with guitarist Charles Mokotoff, soprano Dawn Mollenkopf, violist Wendy Cheng, jazz singer Mandy Harvey, and violinist Stephen Shey.  AAMHL brought us all together for the conference in 2015 and the open mic event at HLAA's 2016 conference.  We all live in different areas so there was no way that we would normally play together.  AAMHL provided a common platform from which we all could perform together.

I don't consider these experiences to be different from the experiences I have had playing with musicians with normal hearing.  The experiences vary from person to person.  I have worked with some very fine musicians, some of whom have normal hearing and some who don't.  I would say that my more unfortunate experiences came from working with musicians who had normal hearing.  It seems that when one is faced with an obstacle such as hearing loss, it not only forces him or her to work even harder, but it also humbles them.

Another thing that people need to realize is that the level of musicianship is not determined by how well a person hears but rather how well a person listens.   Just because a person has normal hearing doesn't automatically make them a good listener.  When it comes to listening, one must be able to pay close attention and recognize what is happening around them.  Having a good musical ear means you have a good memory.  I was the strongest student in my ear training classes, not because I had the best hearing but because I have a very good memory.

Lastly, being a good musician requires discipline.  I have worked with six different musicians who have hearing loss and all of them are very disciplined.  They all were prepared and knew what they were doing, and we had only a matter of hours to prepare for a performance because we all were coming from different areas.  We all had to make sure our individual parts were rock solid. 

What were some of the highlights of the first AAMHL conference in 2015? What did you gain from it?

I really enjoyed the 2015 conference because I got to meet so many fine musicians and I got to learn about the available resources for people with hearing loss.

It was nice to finally meet others who had experienced similar things and who understood all too well the preconceived notions associated with hearing loss.  In my past experiences, everyone thought that because I wore hearing aids, my hearing was normal when I had them on.  Not true.  I got to learn how people compensate for their hearing loss and are able to successfully make music.

Probably one of the most memorable experiences, though, was when I met the singer Dawn Mollenkopf, who has a severe to profound hearing loss. And like me, she has synesthesia, a phenomenon in which perception in one sense triggers perception in another. We both perceived music in color and for us, this was a great tool for us in listening to music. Certain colors went with certain musical notes.  In my own personal experience, "seeing colors" in response to hearing sound helps me recognize and understand what I am listening to.  It is my synesthetic experiences that enabled me to develop a good musical ear because colors served as memory aids. This was my first time meeting a person with hearing loss who experienced synesthesia.

How long have you been composing music? What do you love about composing and what do you hope to express in your work?

I began composing music seriously when I was a sophomore in college. I have gone through different periods of writing.  In my early years, my focus was on incorporating visual imagery in my music, thus proving the commonalities between sound and color.  My work was influenced by my synesthesia.  Then shortly after graduating from college, I adopted two small parrots and soon my music took an avian spin.  It was my intention to pay homage to our finest music makers, birds.  As of now, I find myself seeking the divine or perhaps something that cannot be understood by the spoken word.  My music has always been a bit abstract but now I find that my music simply is what it is, a kind of story of a soul, my soul, striving towards happiness, striving toward heaven.

I can't say I enjoy composing music.  Actually the process is quite painful and is a lot like pulling hair.  It doesn't come all that easily but once the music is written and gets a performance, it is well worth the aggravation.  Writing music is a way to leave something behind for the generations after me.

What was the inspiration for your latest album, Images?

Early in 2015, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with members of my church where we visited various historic and holy places. This wonderful trip was the inspiration behind Images, a collection of seven piano pieces, each inspired by either a specific place, moment, or feeling during my visit.  There are other original piano pieces on the CD, three of which were commissioned by the New Jersey Music Teachers Association.

What's next for you? What are you excited about in the coming year

Well, at the beginning of March I had my first organ lesson.  Yup, I am learning the organ.  I had played piano for a few masses at my church and enjoyed it.  There was no organist available at the time and I didn't know how to play so I played the piano.  This made me curious about the organ and so I decided to learn in hopes that I can be a church organist someday.

This post originally appeared in Grand Piano Passion™.It was repurposed with permission. 

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Fly

By Chill Kechil

Chill Kechil is a Les Paul Ambassador, helping to educate musicians and others about the risks of noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. The New Jersey-based DJ and composer recently released two versions of a song, “Fly,” featuring vocals by Shakila Azhar, in addition to two holiday songs. He is donating a portion of their sales to Hearing Health Foundation

As a person with hearing loss, he has made adjustments in order to compose and perform. Here, he talks about the genesis for the songs and what he likes in music.

My latest collaboration is with Shakila Azhar. She is a singer who lives in Singapore, and she happens to be my wife’s cousin. She flies in airplanes for a living and sings at her company’s events. My wife told me Shakila has a killer voice, so when I finally met her we talked about doing a song together. 

Through this song I wanted to capture the spirit of flying, along with her soulful vocals. We recorded “Fly” over a few hours, when she had a stopover in New York City, but I’ll admit it took me almost a year to finish the production.  I hadn’t worked with live vocals before, and I wanted it to be perfect so I really took my time about getting it right. I was also using a new version of my music production software. Shakila’s improvised vocals and lyrics added real soul to the song. 

There are two versions available, a dance version, and a deep house version. I realize now that there could be a connection between my high frequency hearing loss, making it hard to hear higher pitches, and my love for deep house music, which has heavy kick drum beats and a deep bass line. Actually it’s funny, but the idea for the bass line in the deep house version of “Fly” came about while I was doing a holiday song based on Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from “The Nutcracker.” 

But it’s not just the deep sounds that I like in my music. The tune should be very melodic. I like women’s vocals floating over the top, and instead of typical three note chords, I like to use four or five notes in each chord like in jazz music (another of my favorite genres). House music combines all of these things—deep sounds, melodic vocals, and rich chords. The software just changes the entire production of a song, letting me visualize the notes and chords while composing. It brings hundreds of instruments to my fingertips.   

When it comes to curating songs for internet radio stations or creating a DJ set, most have kind of a danceable beat. My preferences are really chill, lounge beats and house music that can flow smoothly together from one song to the next. You can say I live up to my Chill Kechil name because most of the songs I produce or play have this chill, danceable beat to them.

Protecting my hearing by covering my ears is always a priority. The headphones I wear for DJing have to isolate the sound from the mixer while also protecting my ears from the ambient sound and noise. This way, I don’t have to turn the volume up as much when I’m mixing a DJ set. The headphones make the bass sound warmer, while reducing the higher frequencies that can hurt the ears and lead to ear fatigue. I always try to be careful by allowing my ears to rest at least a week between DJ gigs, and to check my smartphone’s decibel meter for loudness when catching other DJ or music acts. And, of course it goes without saying... I always have my earplugs handy.

He DJs regularly at Skinny Bar & Lounge on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Look for him on open turntable nights. Read more about Chill Kechil and his music in Hearing Health's Spring 2015 article here.

Chill Kechil believes in the mission of HHF and its search for a cure for
hearing lossand tinnitus. He is donating a portion of sales of
“Fly" and the
holiday songs “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" and “Carol of the Bells” to HHF.
Visit
chillkechil.com to listen to samples and purchase.

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HHF Celebrates National Protect Your Hearing Month

By Emily Shepard

October marks National Protect Your Hearing Month, part of the American Academy of Audiology’s (AAA) campaign to raise public awareness about hearing protection. Through extensive research and programming such as the Safe and Sound Program, Hearing Health Foundation has contributed greatly to this awareness. To celebrate National Protect Your Hearing Month, HHF has compiled a list of 5 Must Know Facts about Hearing Loss Prevention.

Fact #1: Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) can be contracted in a variety of environments.  Around 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 69- around 15% of the population- have NIHL due to exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure activities. 60% of military service members have NIHL or tinnitus, or both. Given this huge percentage, it’s unsurprising that active and veteran service members rank hearing loss and tinnitus as their top health concern.  

Fact #2: NIHL is the most preventable type of hearing loss. The measures needed to prevent NIHL are easy and simple. Just remember the following three words: Walk, Block, and Turn. When exposed to loud sounds, walk away. Block noise by wearing earplugs or other hearing protective devices when involved in a loud activity. Turn down the sound on stereos and mp3 devices. These are some of many ways you can help protect your hearing. Ultimately, the idea is to keep an eye (or an ear) on noises that seem hazardous or alarming.   “For more information about how to protect your hearing, please visit our partner’s page, It’s a Noisy Planet. Protect Their Hearing®.

Fact #3:  Half of classical orchestral musicians experience hearing loss. But that doesn’t mean you should! As stated in our blog post, “The Danger From Noise When It Is Actually Music”, musicians practice or perform up to eight hours a day. Sound levels onstage can reach up to 110 decibels (dB), the equivalent of a jackhammer! Prolonged exposure to 85 dB (the sound of heavy traffic), causes hair cells of the inner ear to be permanently damaged and can lead to hearing loss. With an 85 dB minimum for this risk, musicians exposed to jackhammer-levels are in dangerous territory. Attending an orchestra show or any other musically-vibrant production may not put you at the same risk of musicians, but it is still important to take cautionary measures. Find a seat that isn’t too close to the front of the stage and bring earplugs in case the music gets too loud. If the sound becomes especially loud, it might be worthwhile to leave early. Since soundtracks and recordings of shows are often available for purchase, there’s no need to stay out of fear of missing out. Remember, safety should always come first.  

Fact #4: What commonly used portable device is louder than a hair dryer, dishwasher, heavy city traffic, and a subway platform? The correct answer is an MP3 player at maximum volume (105 dB). Listening to your favorite artists or podcasts on blast may seem like a thrill, but there’s nothing fun about subjecting your ears to hazardous noise levels. 1 in 5 teenagers, an age group that frequently uses MP3 players, suffer from hearing loss. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation reports that 12.5% of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from loss of hearing as a result of using ear phones or earbuds turned to a high volume. So to play it safe, HHF suggests no more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure at or above 100 decibels.  

Fact #5: Steps to prevent hearing loss should begin the moment someone is born. In 1993, only 5% of newborns were tested at birth for hearing loss. Thanks to HHF’s instrumental role in establishing Universal Newborn Hearing Screening legislation, this percentage increased dramatically. By 2007, 94% of newborns were tested. Early detection of hearing impairments in infants can help to diminish or even eliminate negative impacts that would otherwise harm their future development. Therefore it is important to screen infants for hearing impairments, preferably before they are discharged from the hospital. You can learn about the different types of tests hospitals use to screen infants here.  

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Les Paul, Wizard of Waukesha

By Sue Baker

Les Paul often said he learned everything he needed to know while growing up in Waukesha. I met Les Paul when I worked at the Waukesha County Museum, and wanted to put together an exhibit about him. We became good friends for what would be the last 10 years of his life (he died in 2009), and these are just some of the stories he told me.

Lester Polsfuss was born June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a city 20 miles west of Milwaukee, to a family with strong German roots. From the time he was a preschooler, Les was encouraged by his mother, Evelyn, to entertain. Les recounted how when he was 5 years old the Rotarians would lift him to a tabletop during their meetings so he could sing for them. By the time he was 8, Les disassembled a harmonica he was given to see how it worked. After reassembling it, he filled the family home with the sounds of endless harmonica practicing.

Radio was brand new when Les was growing up and he couldn’t get enough of listening to the guitar-playing country singers. When the singers came to town, Evelyn took Les to see them perform. Les wanted to be just like the guitar player Pie Plant Pete, and when the performer came to Waukesha not only was Les in the audience, he was dressed just like Pie Plant Pete, who performed in “Showboat” in a sailor suit. In fact, years later Les changed his performance name from Red Hot Red to Rhubarb Red. (“Pie plant” is another name for rhubarb.)

But playing his guitar and harmonica, and singing and telling jokes, was not enough for Rhubarb Red. As a teen, Les loved his guitar but he was sure it could sound better. After inventing a harmonica holder so his hands were free, Les pondered how to improve his guitar so he could hear just the vibration of the strings. So Les stuffed socks, rags, and a tablecloth inside the guitar. The sound was different but not quite what he wanted. Next, he filled the guitar with plaster of Paris—and that was the end of his guitar. 

Les wanted the densest material he could find to build a guitar so that only the strings would vibrate. He tried a two-foot piece of discarded iron train rail. He stretched a single guitar string down the length of the rail and plucked it. What sustain! It was crisp and just the string vibrated and it vibrated a long time. It was exactly what he wanted. He ran to share his great discovery with his mother. The usually supportive Evelyn looked at her son and said, “The day you see a cowboy riding a horse with a piece of rail…” Les knew she was right, but he also knew he had the beginning of something big.

Teenage Les was playing all over Waukesha and the surrounding area. He wanted to hear what his audiences were hearing so he built a disk-recording machine using a flywheel from his dad’s car dealership, a rubber belt from his dentist, and aluminum disks for recording. By now, Les was performing on the radio and his mother would capture his performances on his recording machine. 

Just outside of Waukesha was Beekman’s Barbeque, a popular destination. Les became a regular, playing for tips. Les was constantly honing his guitar playing. He built his own amplifier using parts of his mother’s telephone and radio. When someone in the back said they couldn’t hear his guitar, Les created his first electric guitar with parts from the family’s phonograph and another radio.

In the mid-1930s Les was playing country (hillbilly) music on Chicago radio stations as Rhubarb Red. He spent his nights learning jazz at clubs in Chicago and soon was performing with the musicians. It was in Chicago that he took the name Les Paul when he played jazz.

As a teen, Les played at Waukesha’s band shell, now known as the Les Paul Performance Center. It is being renovated in time for the centennial anniversary of his birthday this June 9.

Learn more about the legendary Les Paul and the launch of the Les Paul Ambassador program, a partnership with Hearing Health Foundation to spread the message of hearing protection. The Les Paul Ambassdaors are guitarist Lou Pallo, saxophonist Chris Potter, jazz pianist John Colianni, and DJ and composer Chill Kechil who was in our magazine as well as in our blogFor the full list of events to celebrate Les Paul’s 100th birthday, see les-paul.com.

Sue Baker is the program director at the Les Paul Foundation

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Imagine...

By Kori Linae Carothers

Imagine for a moment that someone says to you, “Because you have a partial hearing loss, you cannot be a musician.” That happened to me. My name is Kori Linae Carothers and I am a concert pianist and composer. I was born with a hearing loss in my left ear—at least, that is what the doctors always told my parents.


When my parents and I found out I had a hearing loss, it wasn’t a big deal since I didn’t feel any different. I could hear with my right ear. I had a slight slur in my speech but other than that, I felt like everyone else! I loved to dance, sing, talk, dream, and listen to music. Just like most kids my age, I was busy and lived life with gusto.

My love for life changed once kids realized I could not hear as well as they did. Partial hearing was a challenge to me growing up because I had to sit up front in the classroom to hear my teachers. When kids and adults found out about my hearing loss, the teasing began. My peers called me names like “deafy,” and more. What hurt the most was when people laughed at me when I did not get an answer right because I did not hear the question properly. My answers were often out of context.

When I told one of my music teachers in grade school I wanted to be a pianist, she laughed at me, telling me I didn’t have the hearing for it. What? Never tell me I can’t do something, because baby, I will prove you wrong! When I look back on those days I realize that while some of the teasing was cruel, I became a musician and found my true calling: composing and playing the piano.

Skipping forward many years when I got married, I gave up my music to be a wife and mom, but when my husband realized that music is such an essential part of who I am, he encouraged me to pursue it and I have since released four albums. My fifth album, “Fire in the Rainstorm,” is my first solo piano album, while the other four albums are electronic and acoustic albums.

I remember that my first live experience with other musicians was difficult, as I needed to wear in-ear monitoring ear buds in ears, including in my right (hearing) ear. At one of our rehearsals, when I mentioned how difficult it was for me to hear what the other musicians were doing, my friend turned to me and said, “You don’t have to do this.” Well, again don’t ever tell me what to do! I bought an Audio-Technica in-ear monitoring system, and VOILA, problem solved!

While I fully accept my hearing loss, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit being a pianist would be easier with full hearing. I have tried wearing a hearing aid, but with my type of hearing loss, it did not work for me. Recently I wondered if there are any organizations that are researching hearing loss, and what they were doing with that research, as I would love to one day benefit from a cure. With the help of a friend, I learned of Hearing Health Foundation. I was SO impressed with the mission: to prevent and cure hearing loss and tinnitus through groundbreaking research and to promote hearing health. This made me SO happy and I knew right away that I wanted them to be recipients of my PledgeMusic Campaign for “Fire in the Rainstorm,” and I will also be donating proceeds from the sales from the album.

I am grateful for the folks at HHF and for the hope they provide me and others with hearing loss. I know they will continue their groundbreaking research, but not without the help of you and me. I ask you to join me on the journey to spread awareness, promote hearing health, and contribute to their mission so HHF can continue their quest to prevent and cure hearing loss and other hearing disorders.

Feel the fire! Visit Kori on the web. Her latest album is also available for purchase on iTunes

 

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Turning Tables for Hearing Health

By Chill Kechil

Chill Kechil is our latest Les Paul Ambassador, helping to educate musicians and others about the risks of noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. Here, the New Jersey-based DJ and composer describes how he has managed his hearing loss while building a career in the music industry.

I found out in high school through hearing tests that I had some high frequency hearing loss. This caused me to be very aware of protection at a relatively early age. I fortunately did not go to a lot of concerts and wore earplugs way before they became commonly used. 

As I began DJing and producing music, I became aware of many technology tools that help both protect and aid me in producing music. The most common technology app is the dB (Decibel) Meter that I have on my iPhone. I also had custom earplugs made that I use when the sound in a venue is loud. When DJing, I use headphones that are best at “isolating” the sound in the headphones and reducing the outside sounds. This not only protects my hearing but also allows me to mix the next song in my headphones before playing them over the sound system to the audience. When DJs wear headphones, this is what they are usually doing—mixing the next song into the current one that is playing. 

 

When composing and producing music, there are several applications that I’ve found helpful. The first is a volume limiter that I use on the output channel of the mix. This prevents the signal/sound from going too loud and becoming distorted, which could damage your hearing as well as the sound equipment. 

The second is the use of a visual EQ (equalizer) monitor which allows you to “see” the frequencies of the sound being played. This indicates whether there is too much or too little sound in low to high frequencies, allowing me to mix the music better for a better listening experience. In particular, since my focus is on the high frequency areas, I use the visual EQ to monitor too much signal in that range. (There are many types of EQ tools available but I think many producers use visual monitors in one way or another.)

I also learned that, although human hearing technically ranges from 20 to 20,000 hertz (Hz), most people don’t fully hear the entire range, and in the higher and lower frequencies they may only be able to sense that there is a sound being made. A common practice in producing is to use filters to cancel and smooth out sounds below the lower and higher ends of the frequency spectrum. This prevents signals in the lower frequencies from causing unnecessary vibrations or rumbles as well as preventing artificial, “fizzy” sounds at the high frequencies. The ear is most sensitive to sound from about 2,000 to 5,000 Hz, so this is where I try to focus on minimizing peaks in the sound levels. 

Chill Kechil is donating a portion of his music and apparel proceeds to Hearing Health Foundation. Support HHF and enjoy his music at chillkechil.com. Read more about Chill Kechil in the upcoming Spring issue of Hearing Health magazine, out in April.

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When Everyday Noise Is Unbearable

By Pallavi Bharadwaj

Like many people, George Rue loved music. He played guitar in a band. He attended concerts often. In his late 20s, he started feeling a dull ache in his ears after musical events. After a blues concert almost nine years ago, “I left with terrible ear pain and ringing, and my life changed forever,” said Rue, 45, of Waterford, Connecticut. He perceived all but the mildest sounds as not just loud, but painful. It hurt to hear.

Mr. Rue was given a diagnosis of hyperacusis, a nonspecific term that has assorted definitions, including “sound sensitivity,” “decreased sound tolerance,” and “a loudness tolerance problem.”

Hyperacusis can be extremely debilitating, and at present, there is no cure. The researchers in The American Journal of Audiology study provided an overview of the field, and possible related areas, in the hope of facilitating future research. They reviewed and referenced literature on hyperacusis and related areas. This study has been funded by Hyperacusis Research and Hearing Health Foundation

Hyperacusis encompasses a wide range of reactions to sound, which can be grouped into the categories of excessive loudness, annoyance, fear, and pain. Many different causes have been proposed, and it will be important to appreciate and quantify different subgroups. Reasonable approaches to assessing the different forms of hyperacusis are emerging, including psychoacoustical measures, questionnaires, and brain imaging. Hyperacusis can make life difficult for many, forcing sufferers to dramatically alter their work and social habits.

Loud noises, even when they aren’t painful, can damage both the sensory cells and sensory nerve fibers of the inner ear over time, causing hearing impairment, said M. Charles Liberman, a professor of otology at Harvard Medical School, who heads a hearing research lab at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. And for some people who are susceptible, possibly because of some combination of genes that gives them “tender” ears, noise sets in motion “an anomalous response,” he said.

This article has been adapted from a post on The New York Times’s Wellness blog. To read the original article, please click here.

For information about tinnitus (ringing in the ears), please see these resources on the HHF website.

Read the story on Hyperacusis on HHF’s website.

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