For as long as I can remember, playing the violin has been a major part of my life. Although I've never considered myself to be a great player, I have achieved a certain level of proficiency that has opened doors for me to play great musical works, to perform from time to time, and to teach the instrument to others.
My musical journey with the violin has taught me many things. I'd like to share one of those thoughts with you today and explain how it relates to quality hearing clinic services.
I started playing the violin at age seven when I inherited my grandpa's dusty, full-sized instrument...
With my "small kid" hands, practicing for forty five minutes a day on a full-sized violin was painful, but I eventually learned to accept the pain. Grandpa's violin was way too big and not very responsive. A great deal of effort was required to produce anything approximating a pleasing sound. But, as a kid, I was unaware of all these nuances. All I knew, is that practicing violin was both painful and physically exhausting, and I accepted it.
By the time I was fifteen years old, my violin teacher insisted that it was time to get a new violin - one that would "sound better" and be "more responsive". I followed the recommendation of my teacher and visited a violin maker he recommended. It was a rather simple transaction. He put a violin in my hands, I played it, I liked it, and I bought it. Having only ever experienced grandpa’s dusty old violin, in my naiveté, the new violin was everything I could have hoped for. It made that old violin sound like dull, like a wet cardboard box. Sorry grandpa.
Little did I know, at that time, that this instrument would prove to be the wrong instrument for me. When I entered my twenties, and was attempting more complicated and faster musical works, a few things started to bother me about my violin. I wasn't happy with the sound of the instrument. I tried changing strings and swapping bridges but nothing seemed to do the trick. Could it just be me? Had my musical ear become more refined? I was unsure. At this stage of life I couldn't afford to "trade up" and my fingers were well accustomed to the instrument. However, rather than live with the dissatisfaction, I decided to have my violin seen by a professional, for cleaning and possible adjustment.
As an adult, I've taken my violin to many luthiers (violin makers) over the years. They all proven to be experts in restoring my violin and setting it up for optimal sound projection and texture. Often, I would drop the instrument off and pick it up a couple of days later. In all cases, the violin seemed to sound so much better in the shop. However, once at home, the instrument would seem to have its "good days" and its "bad days".
What I came to realize is that I was a part of the problem. Over the years, my fingers had become wider, my hand stiffer, and I had lost some flexibility and agility from my fingers to my arms to my shoulders. My violin now felt too big for my hands. Because of these factors, it seemed as though I was fighting the instrument rather than playing it with ease, and the sound of the music was suffering. At forty years of age, even with extra practice, it was unlikely that I would overcome the issues I was now facing with my violin. My fingers were certainly not going to get any longer. I needed someone to "change" the instrument to suit my needs.
However, finding a luthier that would adjust my violin for "playability" at the expense of "sound quality" was not an easy task. The luthiers I approached with my request were reluctant to adapt a violin for what they perceived as poorer sound quality in order that I could better play it. Having consulted a number of luthiers, conveying to each my particular needs, I was told I needed to either adapt to the instrument or buy a new one. After multiple requests and suggestions made to one luthier, I was even called a "tinkerer". It was not intended as a compliment. But, to me, these professionals all came across as "violin engineers"; experts in the building of the instrument itself, but with little experience or interest in the other part of the equation – the musician. The person.
Finally, at age forty two, I found a luthier that would accommodate my personal needs. Finding him was like finding a needle in a haystack. His name was Luke. He patiently spent hours with me, adjusting the instrument in new ways, listening to the sound of it in my hands, with a keen awareness of the effort I had to invest. In the end, Luke made a number of modifications to the instrument that allowed me to play better than I ever had before. While elated, I can’t deny having also been a little frustrated that I’d had to suffer for so long before someone would take my individual needs not been taken into account. Why had I been given an instrument that was not right for me? Why had I not asked more questions? When I did, why was I turned away and rebuffed the majority of the time?
The experience has taught me some important lessons. Violins don't play themselves. Being a violinist means entering into a mutual relationship with the instrument - one of give and take, working with the one another to exploit strengths and compensate for weaknesses. I needed to partner with a luthier that was as committed to my satisfaction as to the technical aspects of my instrument.
In many ways, hearing aids are very similar to violins. Each hearing instrument is a medical device that, within the context of a hearing solution, becomes one with the wearer. The instrument cannot simply be evaluated on its own. Granted, hearing aids can be tested, apart from the wearer, to see if they meet published technical specifications. Similarly, clients can be tested, apart from the hearing aid, to measure physiological needs and personal preferences. But, much like the unique sounds created by a violin in the hands of a particular player, hearing aids create unique, measurable sounds in relationship with each wearer.
When you place a hearing aid in the ear canals of an individual, the ear canal becomes part of the instrument, amplifying certain sounds and dampening others. Couple this with the fact that we all experience or perceive sound in a uniquely personal way, and you may start to realize the importance (and complexity) of providing exceptional, personalized hearing solutions for each unique individual.
Best practice hearing verification services exist for this singular purpose. They answer the question, "How does sound resonate in the uniquely shaped ear canals of this particular client?" Measurements taken of how sound resonates in your individual ear canals are called "Real Ear Measures". Real Ear Measurement machines are commonplace in hearing clinics across Canada. However, as common as they are, surveys reveal that most hearing clinics do not take these important measurements on a regular basis. This is a nothing short of a tragedy for clients and for the future of the hearing industry.
Just like a beginner violin student who accepts, without question, the needless pain associated with playing an inferior instrument, many of those with hearing loss just accept their lot in life without question, not knowing or believing that their quality of life can be made more enjoyable.
I believed that the first violin I purchased at fifteen years old was the greatest instrument I could possibly have. In time and with experience, however, I grew to realize that it wasn’t the ideal instrument for me. Similarly, clients who have purchased hearing aids from hearing clinics who do not perform real-ear measures, along with other quality services, may never be granted the opportunity to experience their "optimal hearing solution". Instead, they may live the rest of their life settling for "just good enough".
Luthiers, violin retailers and collectors, and even some music teachers, seem to place a disproportionately high value on only the technical measurements of an instrument, at the expense of the musician’s ability to play it. Similarly, many hearing professionals and hearing aid manufacturers promote technical aspects of hearing aids apart from the wearer, leading the public to believe the instrument, alone, is the solution to their hearing challenges. As a result, many technically sound hearing aids are sold that deliver underwhelming results.
I was fortunate to find a luthier who appreciated that it is not the performance of the instrument alone, but the performance of the instrument in my hands. Similarly, an exceptional hearing clinic takes the time to perform objective real-ear measures to ensure the hearing instrument, in concert with the wearer will result in a "masterpiece".
Are you sure your hearing clinic is committed to real-ear measures? Are you sure your hearing aid is optimally set for your individual needs? Are you settling for "just good enough"? If so, it may be time to consider another hearing clinic.
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