I am prejudiced. I prejudge people who do not hear well. Why? Their instrument is not as good as it could be, should be, and perhaps can be. How can we as musicians trust that the people we play with can hear our ideas, process the information, and make good on the effort to make the music as good as it can be? It all starts inside the system of our own hearing. Each time I run into someone who does not hear well and is trying to get the meaning of what is happening based on partial input, I get turned off. It takes an amazing amount of time, effort, and everything I am to get to the rehearsal, the gig, the lesson, the thing where I can show my spirit; I feel cheated when the message may be cut short by an inability to hear.
May I ask, what have you done to ensure that you can hear and that I will not feel cheated when we play together? Did you get your hearing tested at PASIC? Did you attend the Hearing Panel discussion at PASIC? Those of us who attended the panel were happy to see many young people in the room who are interested in preserving their hearing. And, as we learned, there is no way to get your hearing loss back! Once the damage to the tiny hairs in your ears is done, the ringing (tinnitus) begins and the options become more limited. Add more practice time and playing time, and your days of listening to loud music may be limited.
I have been exposed to loud rock music, concerts, marching band performances, drum set teaching, rehearsals, drum circles, and private practice where I have hurt my hearing. After four decades of playing, I wear excellent ear protection 60–70% of the time I play, and I still have loud screeching in my ears day and night. Insanity! Yes, it will make you feel crazy as the signals in your head (the ringing) are telling you to STOP playing. I cannot stop; I hold the beat dear to my heart and cannot possibly stop.
But I must make the time to ensure that I will be able to continue playing until that final moment. I got my hearing tested for the first time in 15 years at PASIC 2022 by the wonderful volunteers from Butler University. I have lost some more of my ability to hear higher pitches, people’s voices, and my interaction with the world at large.
Scared yet? You should be. I heard all of us playing for four days at PASIC and it was loud.
What else can happen to you? Well, it’s not good news. Ever heard of vertigo? Your balance is kept in check by your ear system. What about dementia? You may feel isolation as your senses dull over time and get into your own head. I recently had a bad bout with COVID; I lost my taste and smell, and it left me feeling depressed and alone. If I cannot hear, I am going to start sliding into my own mind again, and without positive reinforcement from the outside world, I may have trouble keeping myself positive and moving forward. And playing — my sanity will be affected.
Scared yet? But not yet scarred? You will be, so it is time to get the ears tested and the earplugs updated and adjusted to the current state of things. You can get earplugs customized to your current hearing and to protect you from greater loss at different decibels.
Please, please, please use a search engine to find where you can get your hearing tested, and take action. You only get one shot at keeping your hearing. Be good to the future you, and get back out there, protect yourself and your hearing, and play!
Eric P. Swanson teaches drum set and plays in rock bands. He also facilitates drum circles and is the Treasurer of the Drum Circle Facilitators Guild. He is a member of the PAS Interactive Drumming Committee.