10 May Operation Opera
Imagine having a progressive hearing loss and wearing hearing aids from the age of seven until one day when you are 30, all your residual hearing collapses within a matter of a couple of weeks and you go totally deaf. You lose all ability to hear speech and music. Everything is gone. Vanished. Total silence.
It happened to me.
I waited 35 years before getting a cochlear implant because my love of music was so great, all I wanted was to hear music again with the true fidelity I remembered. Cochlear implants were primitive at the time and the priority was to provide speech comprehension. I waited, hoping science would find a cure for my deafness. Eventually, I knew it was time to move on and get a cochlear implant, knowing there was nothing to lose and everything to gain.
After receiving bilateral cochlear implant surgery, I was activated with two Cochlear Nucleus 6s. (Later upgraded to Nucleus 7s). The process to recover speech and music was a fantastic journey of discovery.
I recently encountered a podcast on iHeart radio, Operation Opera. Rachel Payne and Alisa Peterson, two opera performers, produce this program with a fascinating insight to the backstage operations of opera.
I wrote them a letter complimenting their program and gave a little background into my journey to hear music again after 35 years of total silence. They asked if I would be willing to be interviewed for an episode to talk about my loss of music and how I regained it. It was an opportunity I was glad to take. Thank you both, Rachel and Alisa.
Voiceover: Cochlear Implant Basics is a site for candidates, recipients, and their families and friends. If you or a loved one is profoundly hard of hearing, newly deaf or have experienced sudden hearing loss, we are here to share our stories and tell how receiving a cochlear implant can be a life-changing event. This site is not medical advice nor is it brand specific.
Voiceover: Within these podcasts and videos you will meet recipients who faced hearing loss situations and hearing aids could no longer provide comprehension of speech or music. They share the stories of how they lost their hearing, their struggles with growing isolation from their family and friends, their inability to compete in the world of business, their difficulties of navigating air travel without hearing, how the joy of music disappeared, and the panic of not being able to use a telephone to contact 911 to get aid for a loved one. They will talk about their fears and the reason they procrastinated to get a cochlear implant and the reasons they moved forward, how receiving a cochlear implant changed their lives and the lives of those who surround them. You will meet audiologists and surgeons and those who support the deaf and hard of hearing communities. Welcome to Cochlear Implant Basics. Reminder, Cochlear Implant Basics is not offering medical advice. Please consult your own health care provider.
Richard: Rachel Payne and Alisa Peterson are producers of an extraordinary podcast called Operation Opera. Before I suffered a total loss of my residual hearing, the Metropolitan Opera was a treat that my wife and I enjoyed. After an absence of 35 years of hearing, I received bilateral cochlear implants and was hopeful once again I would be able to enjoy music. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the backstage side of opera in the episodes of Operation Opera. I wrote to the producers with my compliments about their podcast along with a summary of my own experience of learning to hear music again through cochlear implants. They asked if I would be willing to do a program with them, an opportunity I jumped at, and I received their kind permission to add it to cochlearimplantbasics.com along with a transcript. So thank you to Rachel and Alisa. I hope listeners will enjoy and learn from Operation Opera as I did.
Rachel/Alisa: Richard, thank you so much for reaching out and for telling us a little bit about your world and your work. Can you give us a recap of a little bit about your journey with sound.
Richard: Oh, sure, absolutely. As a matter of fact, I found your blog by accident, and it was fascinating. I’ve had a hearing loss for 35 years. I was born with normal hearing, and I had Scarlet Fever when I was five. I wore hearing aids from the time I was five until I was 30. Then I suffered a complete collapse of the residual hearing, so I was totally deaf for 35 years. The reason I was fascinated by your website of opera, my wife and I used to go the opera all the time, but when I lost my hearing, that was the end of that, and I missed it so much. I received bilateral cochlear implants just over four years ago, so I’ve spent the last four years making up for all the music I missed for 35 years.
Rachel/Alisa: That’s beautiful. When you say bilateral cochlear implants, what does that exactly mean?
Richard: What a cochlear implant is is when you have normal hearing, the cochlear inside your inner ear has about 35,000 hair cells, and when those hair cells start to die, you lose comprehension. Those hair cells are what interpret sound into electrical impulses that your brain hears. You don’t hear with your ears. You hear with your brain. Normally, if they have sometimes disease or medication or even aging, with age, those hair cells tend to die away.
Richard: What you find is you may use a hearing aid. A hearing aid will boost the volume but won’t boost the comprehension. The comprehension goes away with time. So if you fall below 40% speech comprehension, you qualify for a cochlear implant. What that is two-part component. The surgical part is a antenna with a magnet just under the skin with a processor. That processor has a wire leading into the cochlear. They thread it through the cochlear, and it has 22 electrodes, so the processor is able to interpret sound and send out the electrical impulses into the ear the same way that natural hearing would do it. Like I say, I was totally deaf. My audiogram looked like I was a stiff in a morgue. It was 0.0% and no speech comprehension. Today, I have about 85%.
Rachel/Alisa: Amazing. That must be so great. Tell us about how you’ve been catching up? What have you been listening to and how have you been going about deciding what you’re going to delve into next?
Richard: When I received the cochlear implant in January of 2016 and I had to catch up with music. Now, a cochlear implant’s not a magic bullet, by the way. You have to rehabilitate. The speech sound is a little bit like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, and you have to practice, practice, practice. Depending on the individual, it can take weeks or it can take months. But to me, music was more important than anything else in a way that music was more important than understanding speech. Because when I lost my hearing at that time, cochlear implants had just been invented, and they were very primitive. I was afraid if I got a cochlear implant, that music would sound mechanical-
Rachel/Alisa: Distorted, yeah.
Richard: … and distorted, mechanical. Now, even though I’m not a musician, I love listening to music obviously. I was afraid to get that, so I waited and waited and waited hoping that science would catch up with me and find a cure for deafness or whatever. By a certain time I said, “No, it’s not going to happen.” The technology caught up with it, and I decided to go ahead and get the cochlear implant. So what I did after I got it, I had to learn how to listen to speech again. I would listen to classroom lectures. I would go to the library, take out the lectures and just listen to it, and the speech came back fairly rapidly. But you have to imagine not hearing music from about 1980 all the way through 2016.
Richard: I missed an awful lot. I missed an awful lot. What I did-
Rachel/Alisa: What do you think about Queen?
Richard: I missed a lot of [inaudible 00:07:12]. My friends all said to me, “When you missed rap music, you didn’t miss a damn thing.” [crosstalk 00:07:23]
Rachel/Alisa: [crosstalk 00:07:22].
Rachel/Alisa: [crosstalk 00:07:24] patter down.
Richard: Oh my gosh. So what I did is I bought a Sony disc player. Now, the cochlear implants, what happens is you stream the music directly to the processor. The external processor looks like a hearing aid with a cable, and it has a magnetic antenna on the other end. That sticks to your head. It’s sticking to the magnet that’s under the skin. I have something called a Cochlear Nucleus 7, which is the best in the world. That processor, you can stream directly from your iPhone. I was streaming your podcast from my iPhone right to my head and nothing through the ear.
Rachel/Alisa: That’s so cool. You don’t have to wear earbuds.
Richard: It’s very cool. I’m bionic. I’m bionic. Maybe that’s true. I have to make up the music. So what did I do? I went to the library. I took the disc player, and there’s an accessory called a Mini Mic. The Mini Mic plugs into anything with a 3.5 millimeter jack and will stream directly to your processor. So I would sit in the library, nobody could hear me because it’s playing in my head, and I would just take all the CDs off the rack one at a time and start to listen to catch up to what I had missed. That’s how I learned to hear again. It’s funny, though, that when you go through this process, like I say, that music is far more important than speech, and it takes a little longer to learn to hear music again. It does sound confusing in the beginning. There are techniques for learning how to do it.
Rachel/Alisa: Can you unpack that a little bit as far as…? You said it’s confusing at first. What about it is confusing?
Richard: Because there are too many instruments playing at the same time, and you still can’t identify what those instruments are.
Richard: Does that make sense?
Rachel/Alisa: Sure. It’s like if 10 people were talking to you at the same time and you were trying to hear all of them.
Richard: Exactly, exactly.
Richard: Now there are three major manufacturers of cochlear implants. There’s Cochlear, Advanced Bionics and MED-EL. Cochlear is the largest by three to one, which is one of the reasons I went with them. They also have the most advanced technology. So what I did was I basically said, “Okay, now I have to learn how to hear music,” and I did that. The issue is here that a company like Cochlear knows that they have to teach you how to hear music again, and they have a program which does that. It’s called [inaudible 00:10:04] to the Beat, and you listen to these individual instruments. But I’m an A type personality. I’m very, very impatient, and I decided to design my own program. What I did is, if you go to my website, which is cochlearimplantbasics.com, there’s a music rehab section there. I went and I found 25 or 30 musicians around the world, first-class musicians, and I said, “Would you donate a two-minute clip just of your instrument?” I just wanted a cello. I wanted a harp. I want [crosstalk 00:10:41]-
Richard: … so on and so forth. All these people donated two minutes of time. So on my website you can learn how to hear one instrument at a time. If it doesn’t sound right, you can keep repeating it until it sounds normal.
Rachel/Alisa: What is normal?
Richard: What is normal?
Rachel/Alisa: When you’re not used to hearing those sounds, what is normal
Richard: Normal sounds like I remembered it when I was young.
Richard: [crosstalk 00:11:05] perfectly normal. As a matter what I like to tell people and if you were looking for discretion, how well can I discriminate, I started to take up Latin with using the Rosetta Stone programs. I could differentiate between the sounds of B-U and P-U, pu and bu. I can hear the difference. That’s very cool. To me, how much better can you get?
Rachel/Alisa: So are you fluent in Latin now?
Richard: Well, I just-
Rachel/Alisa: I’m joking.
Richard: I wish I could. I can’t tell you that I’m very good at it, but it was an exercise to be sure that I was getting the best discrimination as far as music goes. You know that opera or ballet are very, very visual in addition to the music. When you’re listening to one… The funny thing is I missed music so much that even when I was totally deaf, I went to a few opera performances just for the visuals. I think in my mind’s ear I could probably hear a little. I know I couldn’t hear the music. It was tough. I know I was fooling myself, but I missed it so much.
Rachel/Alisa: That’s amazing. I think about Beethoven and I wonder what you’ve been able to have done with you, would these bilateral cochlear implants have made an effect on him? I would imagine so, but I don’t know exactly what his diagnosis was specifically other than the fact that his father boxed his ears to the point that he became deaf later in life. We get to the sort of shift in music because of that. Like, he became much more romantic because he had to pound the keys so hard to feel them even though he couldn’t hear anymore. Did you find in those intervening years being a non-hearing person that you were able to feel things more?
Richard: It’s a funny thing you should say that. The answer in terms of music is no. But you do find your eyes are taking over for your ears. For instance, I used to be able to lip read like a CIA agent. I could lip read at 25 or 30 feet away and follow the conversation. But since I got my hearing back, I’ve lost that skill. So I think your brain tends to compensate one for the other.
Rachel/Alisa: That’s fascinating. Wow, that’s such a… Oh, man. That would be so distracting for me.
Rachel/Alisa: [crosstalk 00:13:23].
Rachel/Alisa: I’m pretty ADD anyway [inaudible 00:13:27] everywhere I go I’d be like, “Oh, wow, what are they talking about?”
Rachel/Alisa: That’s great.
Richard: It’s kind of funny because I was just thinking last night that when I would go to the opera, even when I couldn’t hear it… We used to live up on the Hudson Valley in New York State. Bard College was up there, and they used to give fantastic performances. They gave a performance of Offenbach. Now, I never heard of Offenbach, but my wife had, so we went to see it. Visually, it was so interesting, and I felt so badly I couldn’t hear the music, but it’s what it was.
Rachel/Alisa: Well, I imagine visually it was really stunning. Offenbach, you can really dress up a lot.
Richard: Exactly, exactly.
Rachel/Alisa: I guess that’s sort of what’s neat about opera in general is that you can dress up or dress down things in it, and really just show you what stands out, how malleable is it. I think it is a pretty malleable art form because of that.
Rachel/Alisa: Oh, yeah, definitely.
Rachel/Alisa: Richard, you mentioned earlier, I feel like I cut you off, but you said there were two parts. There was the surgical aspect, and then there’s the retraining, which is what we ended up talking about anyway. Was there anything else that you wanted to add?
Richard: Well, the two parts are actually this that the surgical part is implanted, and the external part, the processor looks like a hearing aid with a small cable and a button, and the button is what clips to your head with a magnet. That external part is always upgrading as technology improves, which is one of the very, very cool things about Cochlear is that it’s always backward compatible. For instance, I met a gentlemen who did get a cochlear implant 35 years ago. He’s still using the same surgical implant but the fifth or six generation of the external part so that it’s always getting better. I love that about it. The funny thing is about the streaming is that once I got my hearing back, I picked up a turn table, and I’m back into collecting vinyl records. All the things I missed for 35 years, I’m back into doing.
Rachel/Alisa: And vinyl’s back. For a while it was gone there, and we had all of these other far inferior forms of listening and home listening. Vinyl is definitely considered the best. That’s kind of great.
Richard: Oh, sure, it’s great. I live in Sarasota, Florida. We have an opera here that go back to 1926. It’s not the Met. It’s not the Met. Let me tell you, it’s not the Met. You know what I’m talking about. Everybody dresses up a little bit, and they come in with their walkers and their canes. You were mentioning something I found very, very interesting on one of your podcasts [inaudible 00:16:11]. I think it was a podcast about going for auditions. I think it was two months ago. You were talking in there about how the opera was really appealing to the older people. Then you said something very profound that it basically then they have time to learn to appreciate opera, which is true because opera’s an acquired taste. It’s not something you’re born with. It has to be acquired. I thought that was very, very interesting because the older people who were there their hearing is horrible, and you try to do every kind of assisted device.
Richard: What I basically do is I work 24 hours a day. I’m in every time zone in the world because Cochlear works in 85 countries. I’m on Facebook. I’m on every social media there is looking for people that are losing their hearing and the hearing aids no longer work. They bought $5,000 or $10,000 hearing aids, and they can’t hear properly, and they’re very upset. My message is always, “There’s another answer. You don’t have to give up. The cochlear implants, I’ll help you to investigate. So what I’ve done over the past four years as a volunteer… I don’t work for anybody. I work for myself. I formed the website. I do all this. I’m trying to find people that are having trouble hearing and say, “Look, let me help you investigate whether a cochlear implant might work for you or not.”
Richard: It’s part of what you said in that podcast about the auditions was that there were tips and hints to help somebody who was losing their confidence. It’s very difficult to do an audition. I want to tell you something. If you have a hearing loss, every single day is an audition, every day, because you’re constantly losing your confidence when you can’t understand what’s going on around you and you’re afraid to open your mouth because somebody’s going to say, “Oh, we just spoke about that five minutes earlier.”
Richard: So this is one way that… Once you get a cochlear implant, you find people, their confidence comes back like you’ve never believed.
Rachel/Alisa: Would you say that the quality of how you interpret sound is different? I mean I imagine the answer’s yes, but how is the interpretation of sound different in a cochlear implant versus a hearing aid?
Richard: Versus a hearing aid? Very, very interesting because I probably mentored 400 people and the constant feedback I get is that the cochlear implant was so much better than the hearing aid. The sound is more natural. Because remember one thing, with a hearing aid you’re boosting volume, but if the hair cells are deteriorating, you’ll never get the comprehension. You won’t get the fidelity. [crosstalk 00:19:10]-
Rachel/Alisa: Is it like a lack of depth? I’m trying to-
Richard: Yes, I understand. Yes, it’s the depth.
Rachel/Alisa: It makes me think almost like vision where it’s sort of blurry. You don’t-
Richard: Hearing aids make it blurry.
Rachel/Alisa: Right, because they’re just-
Richard: Cochlear implants doesn’t.
Rachel/Alisa: It’s like they’re making it… I don’t know what the analogy is exactly, but when you can’t see far away, it doesn’t help. You know what I mean? The only thing that helps is to have that precision of detail again.
Rachel/Alisa: [crosstalk 00:19:35] glasses.
Richard: Exactly, exactly. The thing is you’re exactly right. The issue is that if you take the right steps and you’re qualified for cochlear implants, yes, it does sound better. It has depth. There’s no straining to hear. That’s over. A lot of elderly people or people with hearing loss strain to hear. In fact, there are websites dedicated just to professional musicians with hearing loss.
Rachel/Alisa: That’s interesting because that’s something that I wondered about because I have a lot of people in my circle that are getting older that say, “What?” a lot when you’re talking. It’s because their hearing is going. But you can’t talk about it because it’s such a part of them.
Richard: Yes, it’s true.
Rachel/Alisa: It’s just so sensitive because you don’t want to talk about it because it’s like, “If I lose this, I lose part of my identity.”
Richard: Exactly right. The number one reason that people don’t even get a hearing aid is vanity. They don’t want to show the weakness of needing a hearing aid. I’ve worked with so many people like that. I’m on the board of directors for the Hearing Loss Association of America. We have a chapter here in Sarasota where people come for the first time. They’ve heard about us, and they come to the meetings. I see this over and over and over again: “I don’t want a hearing aid. I’m afraid people will see me as weak.” It’s the number one reason. It’s a matter of talking to people and convincing them that you’re missing out on life. You don’t have to. You just don’t have miss out on anything.
Richard: So first step is to get them to get hearing tests, get hearing aids. If a hearing aid will work… By the way, you always must exhaust the hearing aid first before you go to a cochlear implant because a cochlear implant involves surgery. Now, the surgery is not a big deal. I mean I had two of them done at the same time. I checked into the hospital 5:00 a.m., and I was on my way home at 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s not a major operation. It’s outpatient surgery. But it’s a statistical fact that the older you get, the more hearing you lose, the more isolated you become. One of the things I find here, which I found very, very interesting because we live in an area with a high population of elderly, that music rehabilitation is a tool that they’re using more and more frequently for Alzheimer’s [crosstalk 00:22:01].
Rachel/Alisa: Absolutely. It’s one of the things that bypasses parts of the brain that are deteriorating.
Richard: Exactly. So what you really have to do is tell people, “We’ve got to get your hearing so you can do this.” It tends to resonate with them.
Rachel/Alisa: I have a question. You’ve mentioned that you can listen to music recordings that go directly into your head, which I think is really cool. What it is like listening to live music now?
Richard: Listening to live is great, I tell you. You remember when I was totally deaf, if I was out with a few friends, I can’t follow what’s going on. They understood that about me, but you still there like a dummy because you can’t speak. Once you have your hearing back, they can’t shut me up.
Rachel/Alisa: It is different listening to music through a recording versus life music?
Richard: Yes, it’s a little bit different. Sometimes I prefer the recording-
Rachel/Alisa: It’s clearer.
Richard: … because I’ve gone to some concerts. There’s a jazz club here in Sarasota, and they have concerts every Friday. I’ve gone to that. That’s very cool. I’ve gone to some classical concerts. It’s very cool. I like it. The opera, it’s wonderful. It’s just in a strange way all sound becomes distorted when it goes through the air [crosstalk 00:23:22].
Rachel/Alisa: When it goes through the air or when it goes through the ear?
Richard: If you’re streaming from a microphone or a recording device directly to your head, you’re not getting that minor distortion. On the other-
Rachel/Alisa: That space provides, right?
Richard: Exactly. On the other hand, sometimes I prefer to use the Bose 35 Comfort headset. I just put them right on top of my processor, and I’m not streaming. So I’m listening to music through a headset, and that’s different from streaming as well. It’s a question of what my mood is at the moment. I can change my head around any way I want. Why not? If you have the ability to change a song and you want to listen to it five or six different ways, why wouldn’t you do it
Rachel/Alisa: Sure, why wouldn’t you?
Richard: Even if you’re singing, you might want to interpret it slightly different each time.
Rachel/Alisa: It’s like you your own DJ. You’ll add beats or whatever. It’s like you’re adding different versions of it. That’s kind of cool. Richard, can you tell me, if you remember, do you remember what the first classical piece was that you listened to after your surgery, after you healed?
Richard: Oh my gosh.
Rachel/Alisa: Do you remember?
Richard: The funny thing is I can’t remember because the strange thing is I was… I probably went to the jazz club first. Then we went to two operas, but I can’t remember which two operas they were at the moment. I wish I did, but I can’t remember them. At first it’s a little bit disconcerting. It just takes so much practice to get to where I wanted to be. I may have rushed it. Because sometimes you’re so enchanted by having hearing, you want to hear everything, and your brain may not be ready to interpret it properly at the time. I know we went to the Sarasota opera probably within two or three months after I was activated, and it was probably just too soon. I could probably go back and enjoy, if they ever open them up again. Oh my gosh, everything’s closed. What a very weird [crosstalk 00:25:26].
Rachel/Alisa: I know. I know. It’s the time we’re living in.
Richard: I went to a couple of nostalgia concerts. I went to hear Tony Bennett, and I went to hear KC and the Sunshine Band. I went to hear the Righteous Brothers without one of them. It was pretty awful. It’s not that my hearing was bad. The music was awful.
Rachel/Alisa: Because you’re like, “Man, they don’t sound like they did 30 years ago.”
Richard: Oh my god, they were horrible, so horrible.
Richard: Now I’m in Florida. I was back in New York once, and the Met was on. There were no tickets left that night. I only had one night. So I really hope to get back to a first-class opera at some point and hear it again because, like I say, it’s been just over four years. Every day’s an adventure. Every day I hear something new. That, to me, is the most thrilling thing of all.
Rachel/Alisa: That is. That’s extremely thrilling. That’s-
Rachel/Alisa: I wonder even, I don’t know if it was from my end because I’m wearing headphones or if it was from your end, Rachel, but I was hearing some birds singing in the background. Or is that maybe from your side, Richard? I don’t know. But I’ve heard birds.
Richard: It could be. I’m sitting in front of a… I have a condo over here. I live on a golf course, and there are three sections. The golf course side is where I have my condo which I turned it into a library. There’s a 10-acre lake in front of me filled with birds.
Richard: It’s kind of funny. We get a duck called a Black-bellied Whistler. It comes up from Central America and Mexico and winters here. I’ve never seen them before I came to Florida. For the first time, yeah, when they fly, they whistle, and, “Wow, this is so neat.”
Rachel/Alisa: That is so cool to be able to hear that.
Richard: It’s very cool.
Rachel/Alisa: That’s something that most people [crosstalk 00:27:16] experience, but you really get to experience it. It’s interesting how sound, when you’re in a new place or when you’re, I guess, in your situation, Richard, hearing it again for the first time in a different way. When I moved to New Zealand, I remember hearing the birds outside and thinking, “I’m in Jurassic Park.”
Rachel/Alisa: [crosstalk 00:27:40] outside.
Rachel/Alisa: “I’m going to get eaten by a Velociraptor.” I was-
Richard: The only bird and animal I haven’t heard is that my wife and I did a four-month around-the-world cruise, and I didn’t have my hearing back then. I missed all the wildlife on that one that I wish I could do it again. Then about four years ago, five years ago, I still didn’t have… no, it had to be before I had my hearing, we did two months around South America with a trip up the Amazon as far as Manaus, so I got to see the Teatro Amazonas. You walk into that place. That’s where you could hear Caruso singing, but it’s all in your head.
Rachel/Alisa: Sure, sure. Describe for me, if you can, after the surgery, what did you go for as far as listening? What was it that you dove into?
Richard: What I had to do first was speech. It sounds like, like I said, Mickey Mouse for a while, so what you have to do is listen. I took out a program from the library. It’s called the Great Courses. Now the Great Courses takes all the top-
Rachel/Alisa: Oh, yeah. I like those a lot.
Richard: [inaudible 00:28:50]. I took out the Great Courses on the history of Mesopotamia. Why? I didn’t know anything about the subject. They’re not closed captioned, so I put it-
Rachel/Alisa: It’s something light.
Richard: Right, something light, exactly. So I had the professor on my screen. I could try to lip read her, and I’m streaming the sound. I had this Mini Mic plugged into my laptop, and I could stream the sound in my ears. After a day or two, it started to sound like speech.
Rachel/Alisa: How many hours did it take?
Richard: Oh, I was doing hour after… I mean the program was 23 hours of lecture.
Rachel/Alisa: Mesopotamia was around for a while.
Richard: Exactly. So I listened to it so it could make sense to me. After a day or two it really made sense to me, so I said, “You know what? I’ll sit across the room, and I won’t be able to lip read her,” and after an hour or two it made sense to me. So you have to really in the beginning emphasize getting your speech back. Don’t worry about music. Now remember, I had not used a telephone in 35 years. They told me that-
Rachel/Alisa: No rotaries anymore.
Richard: They said, “Six months down the road, you’ll be able to use it the phone.” Now this is the great thing about the Cochlear Nucleus 7, it streams from an iPhone only. You can control your volume, your treble, the bass, everything from your phone. I called my sister. I hadn’t used the phone in 35 years. This is about three weeks after I was activated. I call my sister and I say, “What’s the worst that’s going to happen? She knows I’m deaf.” We had a 20-minute conversation. I only asked her to repeat twice, and we were crying the whole time.
Rachel/Alisa: I bet you were.
Richard: That was hard. That was hard on me. The point is, yeah, [crosstalk 00:30:37].
Rachel/Alisa: You were [crosstalk 00:30:37] not because you couldn’t hear, but because you were so moved.
Richard: You want speech. You want speech. Then the music followed. It wasn’t [crosstalk 00:30:49].
Rachel/Alisa: It was jazz first and then-
Richard: Exactly. It was disappointing in the beginning but with practice and practice and practice. Because some of the people on my blog that I’ve interviewed, the podcast interviews have transcripts because I know people watching it basically have a hearing problem or they wouldn’t be there. Two of the people I interviewed on there, Sue Wolfe and Chery Edwards were both musicians and they both went ahead and got cochlear implants. So I let them discuss more about from a musical side how they did.
Rachel/Alisa: Oh, that’s interesting. I was going to ask you, Richard, are you a singer? Do you like to sing?
Richard: I sound like a frog. No, I’m sorry.
Rachel/Alisa: Maybe you don’t sound like a frog. Maybe that’s just that you haven’t recovered all your hearing yet.
Richard: I have the worst singing voice. I have the worst singing voice in the world. Even my dogs don’t like to listen to me sing.
Rachel/Alisa: I understand. Did they think [crosstalk 00:31:44].
Richard: I wish. I wish.
Rachel/Alisa: I have more questions about rediscovering the whole discography from 1980 to 2016.
Rachel/Alisa: Yeah, man.
Rachel/Alisa: Because I grew up in the ’80s-
Rachel/Alisa: … and so a lot of that music is dear to my heart. I just wonder if someone hadn’t heard it and then they heard it what they would think of it now 40 years later.
Rachel/Alisa: It’s like a time capsule.
Richard: It is like a time capsule. But like I say, when you go to the library and they must have 300 or 400 CDs there, you don’t really know which order to pull them out. The funny thing is rap music sounded pretty good to me. You remember, I never heard it, and I assumed it was a piece of crap. But in the beginning when you’re starting to hear music, it made sense. Classical music, like I say, took the longest because it was just too confusing.
Rachel/Alisa: It’s so intricate.
Rachel/Alisa: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:32:37] with it.
Richard: Now, I do listen to opera because we have a radio station here called WSMR, and they play live from the Met. They play all classical. They play Live from the Met on the weekends. I listen to it that way. It’s the only way I’m going to hear great opera.
Rachel/Alisa: Did you catch the Met’s At-Home Gala last weekend by any chance on Saturday?
Richard: No, I missed that one. I missed that one. I can probably-
Rachel/Alisa: I think you can still get it on YouTube if you’re interested.
Richard: Yeah, I probably will.
Rachel/Alisa: For me it was fantastic because everyone was just at home, all these great singers, and it was very-
Rachel/Alisa: Did they dress up at home?
Rachel/Alisa: Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative), to varying degrees.
Rachel/Alisa: Yeah. No, it was great. Some of them had prerecorded accompanists and some of them had accompanists who were there in the room with them. It was just a very intimate look at the artists which you don’t get when you see them at the Met. They’re very far away from you. You can just see a tiny person on… Well, at least I should say they’re very far away from me from the tickets I generally get.
Richard: It’s a lot different. It’s like going to the-
Rachel/Alisa: Even the best tickets I’ve ever had, it’s further away.
Richard: It’s like going to the Westminster Dog Show in person. You can’t see the dogs, but when you watch it on TV, suddenly they look great.
Rachel/Alisa: You’re right up there and you’re like, “Oh, wow. Look at that fur. It’s so shiny.”
Rachel/Alisa: For me there was something even more intimate about it because they didn’t have a professional production team. They have the Live in HD productions, but, of course, those are produced and the artist is just a part of it. These were self-produced by the artists, and so it was just very interesting to see the choices that they made as far as repertoire and how they decided to present themselves and all of those things. Then, of course, as the singer and the voice teacher, it was interesting to observe their technique from so close and all that. Anyway. I definitely recommend it if you’re interested because it has both the visual and the audio experience. You’d be able to stream it straight into your brain and also see the singers. It probably would pretty fascinating for you.
Richard: I would love to do that. You’re probably right. I’ll look it up. I’ll check it out.
Rachel/Alisa: Cool. Was there any music that really stood out to you that you were pouring over this music you’d missed over 35 years?
Richard: I’m afraid to tell you it was jazz.
Rachel/Alisa: Don’t be afraid. I love jazz.
Rachel/Alisa: I love jazz. We love jazz, Richard.
Rachel/Alisa: I grew up with jazz. That’s my [crosstalk 00:34:56].
Richard: I stream a jazz station from Stockholm, Sweden, because I love swing. I love swing. That’s the funny thing is I was deaf at the right time, and I got my hearing back at the right time because all these programs came in to play at the right time. I remember when I lost my hearing, the fax machine wasn’t around. The internet was probably in somebody’s mind, but it wasn’t there yet. As a matter of fact, when I had to communicate… I was a third-generation picture framer and art dealer in New York. I had five locations, and I had a factory. When I had to talk to suppliers, I lost my hearing, I’m probably the last man standing that has a telex address, so I had to learn how to use my own telex machine. You do what you can. [crosstalk 00:35:50]-
Rachel/Alisa: What is that?
Rachel/Alisa: That’s where you translate what he is writing into speech for the other person.
Rachel/Alisa: Oh, okay.
Richard: No, telex machine was like a telegraph machine. What happens now, we’re talking now, you can do speech to text. On my phone, I have a speech to text program. If somebody wanted to speak to me and tell me what’s going on, it’s different. But I’m a very, very old, old man now, so some of the techniques that I had to use back then they’re not used anymore. Nobody knows about them. When the fax machine came out, they were $1,000 a piece, and I had to all my supplier buy them. They were all pissed at me, but I said, “If you want to business, this is the way I have to communicate.” So music was cut off for me. Music came back in a big way. I stream music all day one way or another. I stop talking to anybody once in a while so I can listen.
Rachel/Alisa: It’s interesting you say that about jazz. I teach at a college, and these kids who are now… I don’t want to say I’m old enough to be their parents now. I’ve loved jazz since the time I was an adolescent, and these kids, they graduated class of 2018 or 2019, and they love jazz, and they love swing. They love the old stuff. I’m like, “What?”
Richard: It’s coming back.
Rachel/Alisa: “Where did these people come from?”
Richard: I’ll tell you why, what’s very interesting to me. We’re about an hour away from Saint Petersburg, and Saint Petersburg has one of the biggest vinyl record shops I’d ever seen. I stumbled on it one day. He has millions and millions of albums.
Richard: I’m talking to him, and I said, “What’s going on now?” He said, “The hot one is Doris Day. All these young girls come in and want to buy the Doris Day vinyl albums.” So go figure. I think what’s old is new. The same way that you discussed, why does opera last for hundreds of years? Because there’s a quality to it. There’s a charm to it. It can’t be created again. That’s why it’s still popular. Now, yes, you’re right. You have to acquire a taste for it. You may be a little bit older. But I listen to it. I listen to a classical station from Venice, Italy. They play artists I’ve never heard of. It’s a fabulous station, and they’re all charming. It’s a lot of baroque, but it’s charming. That’s why you find the kids liking jazz because it makes sense. It’s speaking to something internal. You can’t explain what it is, but it’s there.
Rachel/Alisa: I’ve never been a big Vivaldi fan. I was in Venice a couple of years ago, and I’d just been introduced to this group that I would imagine plays on the station you’re talking about. The way that they played Vivaldi, it was like they were sawing the instruments in half. There was just this-
Rachel/Alisa: Yes, passion. Yes, passion. Yes, it was passionate for sure. I mean it was intense. There was just this almost visceral aggression that felt so… It was amazing. But what ended up happening was the music became alive to me in a way that I had never experienced Vivaldi before because it had always felt kind of like, “Oh, boy. Here’s a bunch of notes, and we’re really going to really emphasize the downbeat. Yay.” You know? But when you hear interpreters that make something old new or realize how it would have had to have been played at the time because when you’re playing on a gut string instrument, you kind of have to saw it in half to really create that kind of accent. I feel in some ways that’s a microcosm of what we’re talking about in the sense that when you have something that you’ve experienced one way for many, many years and then you have something new that’s brought to you and you get to reinterpret what that thing means and how it feels.
Richard: Reinterpreting music can be so interesting and so wonderful. It’s not like when you take an old performer and he’s still singing away. That’s not the same thing. But to take something that’s… People reinterpret paintings, too, and when they interpret it, you’re seeing it in a new light. Because, to me, visual art can have only two meanings: one, to arrest me with their beauty, or to make me rethink my perceptions of it. Music can be that way, too. It can arrest you with beauty or start the new perception.
Rachel/Alisa: I like that.
Rachel/Alisa: I do too.
Rachel/Alisa: So switching a little bit right now to art, so you’re talking visual art, so you have two things. I’m just trying to recap so that I understand what you’re saying. There’s beauty, and there’s to think of something differently. Do you find that when those two things go together that that’s when you can have an almost euphoric experience, like something that’s completely different? I don’t know. I just-
Richard: I agree. It has to be more together. I worked in the art business for so many years, and I was fortunate to be part of what I consider a beautiful movement of modern art when it was Matisse, it was Miro, it was Picasso. I always enjoyed that, and I was happy to be part of that. I suppose what saved me with all my deafness is I was still part of the visual arts, and I enjoyed that. But now I’m back into music. I wish I could play. I can’t.
Rachel/Alisa: I always thought it was interesting. Alisa and I a couple years ago were in Paris and we went to the Opera House there. I always thought it was so interesting that in Paris the Opera House there is so baroque.
Richard: Yeah, sure.
Rachel/Alisa: It’s filled with all kinds of beautiful carvings and such. But you look at the ceiling, and it’s Chagall. I remember just thinking, “Really? Chagall?” I mean I love Chagall-
Richard: It’s a beautiful place.
Rachel/Alisa: … but I found it so surprising of all places.
Rachel/Alisa: Why this sort of whimsy? Which to me is what I think of when I look at Chagall. Why that in this setting?
Rachel/Alisa: Because opera is whimsical, Rachel. Don’t you know?
Rachel/Alisa: Oh, [inaudible 00:42:03].
Richard: [inaudible 00:42:04].
Rachel/Alisa: I’m totally joking. I agree with you. It is a strange juxtaposition.
Rachel/Alisa: Yeah. But I love it because in some ways, as an artist, I look at that ceiling and then I look at the very ornateness around, me but when I look at the ceiling, I feel a sense of calm because it’s like, “Okay, I can also have fun.” It doesn’t have to be this perfected thing. It can also be something that is impressionistic to an extent.
Rachel/Alisa: You experience both, Rachel. You experienced the beauty and you experienced something to make you think differently. See? See how that happened?
Rachel/Alisa: Sorry, we moved, Richard, from music a little bit to talking a little bit about art. We kind of swim around a little bit.
Richard: It’s okay. It’s all right.
Rachel/Alisa: So now you are doing art, and you’re doing music as much and appreciating it.
Richard: Well, I retired 10 years ago, so my connection with the art world has changed. Obviously, I’m not there actively anymore. I just really enjoy music so much more. I have my hammock. I have my iPhone. I can stream music all day. I’m good. I’m happy.
Rachel/Alisa: That’s really beautiful.
Rachel/Alisa: Yeah, it is.
Rachel/Alisa: Well, thank you, Richard so much for giving us your time and sharing your expertise. I hope that anyone listening that either themselves is struggling with hearing or if they know anyone that is would hopefully share this with them and point them in the direction of your site so that they feel a little bit more comfortable.
Rachel/Alisa: I just want to say how much I admire what you’re doing, Richard, and keep it up. I mean you’re being a friend and mentor to a lot of people who are scared, and, like you said, they don’t want to appear weak. They’re experiencing these changes that they’re not sure how to manage. So I think it’s amazing that you’re there to-
Richard: There are different ways. There’s different ways. I deal with people with kid gloves when I need to, and I deal with a heavy fist when I have to. Sometimes people need a push.
Rachel/Alisa: He must be from New York.
Richard: Well, I am.
Rachel/Alisa: Yeah, you are.
Richard: The thing is I didn’t leave New York. New York left me. I came here six or seven years ago because New York just disappeared. It’s kind of interesting for the people that are on the fence… I’d like to tell one story that when you’re on the fence and you’re vain and you don’t want to do anything about it. Last summer my wife became deathly ill, and she had six major operations, six major operations in three months. She’s in the hospital. Before when I was deaf, I would have passively accepted what everyone was doing. But I knew my wife was dying. I knew there was a big problem, so I went to the nurse because I could hear everything that was going on. I said to the nurse, “I want you to send my wife down for an MRI now.” She did it, and she called the surgeon. He started operating on her at 6:00 o’clock on a Friday night, five-hour operation to save her life. She was dead on the operating table. He got her back. He came out later and he said to me, “If you hadn’t advocated, your wife wouldn’t have made it.” I said, “I know.” But if I hadn’t had hearing, I would have just been passively accepting what was going on.
Richard: So my final message is to somebody who’s on the fence, you don’t have to be. You have an obligation to be the best you can be because this is not a dress rehearsal. This is your one life you’re going to get. You’ll have my website up there. You’ll have a way to contact me, and I’d be happy to help you no matter where you live in world.
Rachel/Alisa: You want to say your website one more time, Richard?
Richard: My website is cochlearimplantbasics.com.
Rachel/Alisa: Perfect. Thank you so much, Richard. Happy anniversary to you and your wife. Knowing this story-
Rachel/Alisa: Yes, happy anniversary.
Rachel/Alisa: … makes it even more amazing.
Richard: Yeah, okay. 45 years on Monday. I just have to make it to Monday.
Rachel/Alisa: Oh, it’s Monday. That’s right.
Rachel/Alisa: You’re going to do it. You’re going to do it. I believe in you.
Richard: Okay, thank you so much. Thanks so much-
Rachel/Alisa: Thank you so much.
Richard: … for your time. It’s been a pleasure. It’s been fun.
Rachel/Alisa: Thank you Richard.
Rachel/Alisa: Take care.