Music and Me: Lizzie Ward

Posted on April 20, 2012

‘Music and Me’ is our new strand where deafies write about their favourite tunes, whether current or remembered. Lizzie Ward kicks us off…

Since I was young, I’ve always loved music. It has given me something that can only be surpassed by my love of literature – a deep emotional connection to sounds that come out of instruments, a voice (or voices), and rhythm.

Music is one of those things that people often take for granted – because it’s everywhere. It’s in advertising, in restaurants; you can hear it down in the London underground, on the streets. You may even hear it coming from someone’s headphones on the bus or as you walk past them.

For me, music is in my head. All the time.

I listen to music from somewhere and then catch myself singing it to myself in my head all the time, like a broken record. Or I listen to old favourites in my head. It is like having a personal orchestra or rock band playing non-stop. Even if I wanted to switch it off, I inadvertently find it playing when I least expect it.

It’s because, although I love music and couldn’t do without it, I’ve had tinnitus from a young age, and can somehow set the ringing and the humming to tunes in my head. I can think the rhythm of a song and soon enough, I’ll find my tinnitus humming along, trying to hit the high notes!

The reason I’m writing about this is because, as a deaf person (from birth), I think that there are some real misconceptions about whether deaf people can develop an emotional connection to music. The logic going, apparently, that if we can’t ‘hear’ the music, how can we appreciate it?

When I was a child, and having a tantrum (as you do), my Dad came into my room and quickly put on a tape of Michael Jackson’s album Thriller. It was the first time I had heard anything like it. Obviously, I forgot whatever I was angry about and just sat there listening to something amazing.

My parents are both hearing, and have passed on an incredible legacy of music to my sister and me. We’re both deaf, and love music as if it were part of our very skin.

My hearing has deteriorated over time – the last time I had a hearing drop was when I was a young teenager, so I steadily lost the little hearing I had that let me hear anything without my hearing aids. So over time, I guess I’ve re-learnt to hear music with my hearing aids. To describe it – I can hear the music, the rhythm and the voice, but not make out the lyrics.

I rely on reading lyrics and getting to know a song very well with repeated listening. I imagine I can’t hear very high or very low notes, but all the same, with hearing aids, I can hear as much as they will allow me to. I also feel the beats, learn the rhythm. This is why music with distinctive bass lines appeals to me, although I still love a wide variety of music, from Jazz to Indie.

It also helps if a performer is also an excellent dancer, like Michael Jackson – if you turn off the volume on his videos, you can still ‘see’ the music.

Quite possibly, the process I go through when I ‘learn’ the music with repeated listening and reading of the lyrics, means that I recognise music that other people are not completely sure about when it comes on the radio or when they hear it out and about.

If you take in something and absorb it, it just gets taken in differently than if you can hear the lyrics and go – oh, it’s that song! It’s just a different way of hearing, or of recognising and experiencing something. Not hearing the same as someone who can hear most things doesn’t mean it’s a pity or that deaf people can’t hear anything. It just means we experience the world differently, that we use other means to access the world – our sight, the way something feels or smells or whatever. Everyone has their own way of accessing the world. I don’t take music for granted, and understand why it’s life changing.

What follows is a selection of music (and lyrics) that I’ve fallen for over the years – some recently, some not so recent. For example, I was born in the wrong generation for The New York Dolls, but watched The Old Grey Whistle Test with my parents a few months ago and just loved their weird and raw punk sound! The other songs have memories connected to them. Needless to say, it was really hard to make this shortlist – there are so many that I wanted to include. Some of these songs have lyrics and audio on YouTube if you want to investigate.

I’ll end on a quote. “Rock is so much fun. That’s what it’s all about – filling up the chest cavities and empty kneecaps and elbows.” Jimi Hendrix.

Lizzie’s top 6:

1. In The Shadows – The Rasmus


2. Who Needs Love? – Razorlight


3. When Doves Cry – Prince

4. Fallin’ – Alicia Keys


5. Thriller – Michael Jackson


6. Jet Boy – The New York Dolls


Lizzie is a cupcake baking, rock loving, blogging, writing, scrapbook making, theatre going, sci fi and fantasy obsessed geek-feminist. She is passionate about access to the world for deaf people and is clinging to the hope of peace, love and music. And libraries. Check out her blog, Cats and Chocolate and follow her on Twitter as @destinyischoice

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