René Vergè is a musician and sound engineer from Germany – and he is also a bilateral recipient of MED-EL cochlear implants. He told us about his hearing journey and why, thanks to his cochlear implants, he could continue his work as a sound engineer.
People repeatedly ask me whether it is possible to really appreciate music at a high level as a bilateral cochlear implant user. My answer is: “Yes, it is!”.
Who am I to say that? My name is René Vergé, and I am a musician and sound engineer by profession. Oh, and I am a deaf, bilateral cochlear implant user. Until 2013 I had normal hearing, but then I experienced sudden hearing loss. Despite visiting the hospital, I didn’t recover from it. Suddenly, I was no longer able to do my job. Long (hearing) story short, I used hearing aids for some time before receiving cochlear implants.
After rehabilitation with my first implant, I went to my former boss and showed him the “result”. He told me that he could imagine me working in his company again if my second cochlear implant was just as successful. That was great motivation!
One month after rehab with my new second implant, I started working as a sound engineer in my old company again. My first event back at work was not just any old event, but a techno festival! After two years as a deaf musician and sound engineer on several tours, festivals, and concerts, I can say that it is wonderful to be able to listen to music like that again. It’s almost like it used to be!
New Challenges For A Musically-Trained Ear
Based on my personal experience I can confidently say that listening to music with a CI is possible – even at a professional level! However, there is one big BUT.
Through my studies and apprenticeship I learnt to listen in a completely different way: I learnt how to differentiate between individual instruments. My brain, therefore, knows how music, individual instruments, singing or speech sound.
That’s why it wasn’t very difficult for me to hear again. In the beginning, there were some minor challenges to overcome: The piano sounded like a droning audio tape. String instruments, especially the violin, were terrible, and so was choral singing. Nowadays all this is no longer a problem, and I can also work with choirs again. But, sorry ladies, not necessarily women’s choirs. With this, I still have difficulties hearing details, and it is the only problem I still have to work on.
It doesn’t surprise me that experts sometimes doubt whether hearing at this level is possible with implants. In principle, these doubts refer to what is written on paper, e.g. what technology can do. Technology helps, but only to a certain point. Another aspect is the results of hearing tests. I consider the various hearing tests to be important, but I think that hearing is different for every individual and doesn’t just take place in your ears, but also in your mind. Unfortunately, this is often forgotten, but it is an essential aspect.
If you are aware of this and satisfied with your hearing success, you have already achieved a goal – regardless of what is written somewhere.
In my experience, it is possible to listen to music with cochlear implants. It is up to you to decide if you want to use any technical aids. From time to time I use closed headphones to listen to a sound mix or music from my iPod, or as a replacement for studio monitors when making music.
Practice Moderately, But Regularly!
What do you need to have a good music listening experience? First, you need patience. This might be an old saying and quite obvious, but it is still true. Starting with your favorite music is a good idea – listen to it again and again, but don’t overdo it.
I always tell my drum students – drums are my main instrument these days – that it’s better if they practice 15 -20 minutes a day than one hour once a week. With a lot of small, controlled steps you will reach your goal sooner than with big, uncertain steps. If you read the lyrics of songs, it becomes easier to understand them. But you mustn’t be disappointed if you don’t understand the text despite intensive practice. I also don’t always understand all the lyrics and have learned to accept that.
What can be fun (because it should always be fun!) is to involve your partner or family in this text comprehension practice. I’d bet that the “good listeners” don’t understand everything either.
But it is possible to enjoy music again with help from two cochlear implants, even at a high level!
Last but not least, as already mentioned: You need a lot of patience and to listen to many different musical styles to practice listening, even if you don’t always like them personally.
Want to read more stories about hearing implant users musical talent? See how singer Aigerim from Kazakstan conquers the stage with her cochlear implant, and how Laima, a bilateral CI user, turned her passion for music into a career and now works as a piano teacher.
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