My First Symphony with my Cochlear Implant

When I finished Christmas with my family, and they were on to other things, and there was no stalling left to do as they all went along their way, I said a precious goodbye to my baby puppies and started driving home.

Before I got very far, I received a message that my little (now grown-up and professional) friend Whitney Campbell got a an extra free ticket to the PROFESSIONAL symphony she was playing in last night!  Since I was still close to where it was anyway, I just turned my car around and met the Campbell family there for Whitney’s concert.

It was the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, a professional group in Northwest Arkansas.  This means Whitney is professional and everything!  She got paid!  She was ASKED to be in the orchestra, and was the only Bass Clarinet they had, and so she had tons of solos!  I was so proud of her! They performed in Bentonville, the ritzy cultural center of the home offices of Wal-Mart and JB Hunt and all kinds of gazabillionarie-ness-ness.

DO YOU UNDERSTAND THIS WAS MY FIRST SYMPHONY SINCE MY COCHLEAR IMPLANT?!

It was AMAZING!  And I mean AMAZZZZZZING!

The first part included several classic Christmas pieces, including arrangements with a hand bell choir.  It was so beautiful that I wept.  I cried and cried and cried.

I cannot explain, do not know how to explain the layers of sound that I heard.  As soon as I discovered one sound, something else was already happening.  It was like flying through a rainbow while being thrown into the sea, all at once.  It was music-tastic.

The bells are still the most distinct sound I am able to hear, the most clear and crisp, like the flash of a camera.

But the other pieces of the orchestra – the sounds of a band are still blurry to me – just beyond what I can capture, but so close – but this orchestra last night, oh!  It was like voices in a conversation, different instruments talking back and forth to one another, and yet so subtle.  The voices of the orchestra were pure and soft and lingering, beyond any Jane Austen imagination, so… romantic, but sacred.

It was, by far, the most powerful experience I have had outside of the Temple.

It was, absolutely, one of the most sacred experiences of my life.

And when I closed my eyes, I could still hear it.  The sound was still there!

That is when I began to cry.

I do not understand how sound can become like the slip of silky sheets or the melting of sweet chocolate.  I do not understand how that sound up on the stage becomes as close and sweet as a kiss inside of me.  I do not understand how it got from there to here.  I mean, I understand the physics of it.  I could draw it on paper.  I have always know that.  But I have never known THIS.

I kept reaching toward my head, almost unconsciously, for because the music was so tangible to me.  I have never experienced anything like it, and before music has been accessible to me only on paper – in some silent, visual, mathematical dance behind my eyes, or through touch – with different sounds familiar to me based on where and how I felt them in my body.  But this was an entirely different dimension, and entirely different experience.  This was music that flowed into me and over me and through me, like a river that was only mist, like a vision no one else can see.  It was so TANGIBLE, and my hand, without me realizing it, kept reaching up to touch it, as if it were an object near my head that I could catch, as if it were a magic bubble I might be able to touch.

But I could not touch it, and yet it was that real.

I sat in a chair to LISTEN to music I have read and studied and known on paper, and yet it came alive as much as if a real person had stepped out of a fairytale book.  The notes I have known on paper became 3D, changing from black and white dots to the color of sound.  I was in awe, and it poured over me like waves.

This was our favorite last night, Stille Nacht, by Franz Gruber, as arranged by Davis & Custer, except instead of the voices it was a cello.  I have always loved cello because that is a sound that I can feel in the deepest parts of me, beyond my bones.  Yet to hear that sound, the depth of its haunting, it was as the voice of God.

Here is that song, though nothing will ever compare to the version we heard last night, with the cello doing the voice part you will hear:

I found on YouTube a couple of videos of the cello version, but they were all high school kids and the recordings did not do last night justice.  What miracle is it when my cochlear implant can pick up sound better than a YouTube video?!  But if you want a taste, this one was the best, though the sound is still distorted and it does not do justice to last night’s performance:

The more lively, quick pieces were just as astounding.  Hearing specific notes, distinct pitches, noticing the spaces between notes – I could not even breathe!  I was so moved and caught up!  I have been practicing my “music program” on my processor, and listening to Christmas music as they told me to do.  So I have been proud of my progress of becoming familiar (digitally!) with Christmas songs and trying to hear and understand and learn the words of the songs… but to listen to these songs, pieces I know as one voice or one instrument holding the melody, become a 60 piece orchestra, with the melody dancing around different voices – it was like a ballet of sound!  It was as if there need be no ballet, for the melody itself was the dancer!  I cannot explain how incredible this was, and what a miracle to follow the melody around from voice to voice!

It was way better than Baa Baa Black Sheep on “Sound and Way Beyond“.

Except you know what?  Without the hours and hours everyday of listening rehab, without learning to tell the difference between Baa Baa Black Sheep and Happy Birthday, without studying each note of the scale, without studying the sounds of different instruments, without all those months of painful daily practice, I never ever would have experienced the symphony the way I did last night.

It was a miracle that totally topped snap, crackle, and pop.

The second half featured selections from “The Nutcracker”.  Excepting instead of just playing the classical pieces by Tchaikovsky, they played each selection the classical way, and then a jazz band played the Duke Ellington version!  It was incredible!  What a gift to me, to hear professionals play the same classic pieces in two different ways, so I could learn what the differences were!  It was AMAZING!

I loved it because the jazz band kept featuring different solos, which the orchestra also did, except in jazz band, it was a small band instead of a large orchestra, and when they played a solo, they stood up!  So I knew who was playing the solo!  And I could really, really watch and listen to that specific instrument!  It was incredible!  Again, it was way better than “Sound and Way Beyond”, of listening to which instrument is which.  Except without that practice, I never would have understood what was happening with the jazz band!

The band is still more “blurry” a sound to me, and they played so much so fast that I really could not listen that fast.  I tried hard!  But it was so much so fast, I just couldn’t catch it like I could the long, vibrating sounds of the orchestra.  But it was delightful, and it did make me bounce.  And it just makes me want to practice more.

I think I could hear the trumpets and the soprano sax the best, though both played so many notes I could not keep up.  But what fun it was!  What a chasing adventure it was!

Oh!  The whole evening did fill my soul and lift my spirits!  The sounds I heard are too new for me to hold – they have slipped beyond m
e already, for they are too fresh and too misty for me to be able to hold them in my memory.  Isn’t that a funny thing?  But oh!  I remember the experience of it!  And the experience itself is impressed upon my senses, like seeing stars after looking at the sun too long.

It was a miracle to me, a most amazing experience.

It was not about hearing.  I have studied music always, and have loved the feel and experience of all kinds of music, for always.  I really have.  But this was different than anything before, this was access like never before, this was a whole new dimension.  I was not even on planet Earth.

The symphony last night made every bit of the cochlear implant process worth it.  From the physical recovery to the HOURS of DAILY practice and listening rehab, to the private speech instructors, to wearing the stupid microphone for six months… Even the staples.  Even the staples, that’s how serious I am.

It was worth it.

And it made me want more.

It stirred passions within me, and made me hungry for more.

Selfish perhaps, yes.

Or maybe it was just the very gift I needed to be ready for surgery on Wednesday, to be ready to go through this one more time for the other ear, and then to do the work to make both sides work together into one sound.

It will be like 3D technicolor HD AMAZINGness.

It will be stereo.

Can you imagine the symphony in stereo?

Can you imagine that music pouring into your soul from both sides?

I might melt to the floor.

Next year.  Next year it’s a date with the symphony.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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