Magteld Smith is a MED-EL cochlear implant recipient and has been sharing her story of growing up with hearing loss here on the blog. This part of her story is from her childhood in the 1970s.
I came from a very musical family. My father and eldest brother played the violin, my mother and sister played the piano and church organ. My sister was brilliant in music and till today, she is a professional pianist and organist making a living out of it.
My mother made the decision to send to me for piano classes to expose me to rhythm, coordination, concentration and of course, stimulate my residual hearing. I had to go for piano classes twice a week during school. The teacher had no patience although my mother explained to her that I have deafness. However, the teacher beat me up over my fingers with a ruler and locked me up during school breaks to practice. I didn’t understand theory, it was senseless. I soon started to slam the notes with my fists and hated the piano. However, I still enjoyed sitting next to the piano while my sister or mother was playing. The vibrations and their movements were fascinating. I have also enjoyed going with my sister to the church when she was playing the organ.
My sister played also in the school band and one day came home with a trumpet. The trumpet aroused a great deal of curiosity and my father asked me if I would like to play the trumpet. I said “yes”. I started with classes and could read notes because of what I learned in the piano classes. I enjoyed practising, getting the embouchure and blowing. It was not long before the room was filled with sounds and my first explorations into the world of music. I felt the music hands-on, the vibration of the trumpet inside my head. To the surprise of my parents and teacher I started to play melodies; however I was always out of tune. The trumpet teacher let me practice in front of a machine with orange and black blocks. When I blew a note with the perfect pitch, all the blocks were clear. Therefore, I learned to form my lips, mouth and tongue and to control my breath. I also learned to inhale deeply enough to control how fast I could release the air and thus create all different kinds of sounds and tones. Over time I became more comfortable with embouchure control and corner mouth strength. However, I could never play in a band because then I was out of tune again.
We were obligated to do sport in the afternoon. I hated it because I couldn’t follow instructions because I couldn’t hear the instructions. Swimming was terrible, during school gala’s I was humiliated because I couldn’t hear when the teacher blew the whistle to start swimming. Eventually I started to play netball and I was very good with it. I was the head goal shooter and very fast.
My sister started to do ballet, so I also wanted to do ballet. However, another disaster: the teacher had no patience and I couldn’t hear her instructions and I left the classes after I have burst out several times into tears.
Once a year, we went on vacation. My parents always stimulated us a lot. They would have taken us to places of interest, like, museums, monuments, zoos; exposed us to different cultures, different religions, and to the history of South Africa. During that time we spent 14 days at a place near the coast. We all loved the ocean and wildlife, building sand castles and playing endless hours on the beach. This exposure assisted in increasing and building up my vocabulary. I observed pictures with a written explanation in the museums, asked questions, and my parents would explain the meaning of the words.