My good musical ear has changed my life. I didn’t think about deafness and its effects until much later on in life.
Peter Rapp, Entertainer & Musician
My musical ear made it possible for me to join the most famous boys’ choir in the world: the Vienna Boys’ Choir. That was back in the 1950s when a hundred boys from all over Austria wanted to join the choir. Being there promised both an interesting life and a solid education. The entrance exam was thus especially difficult. I still remember the challenging “Singing by ear” test we had to do. The examiner played a series of notes on the piano and the candidate had to sing them from memory.
I was granted a place and began a new life there. A life in which music would play the leading role – from classical music to rock & roll, to which I have remained faithful to this day.
During this time there were many who had lost their sense of hearing – due to explosions during the war or even by getting slapped in the face, which unfortunately gave them a ruptured eardrum. However, there were so many people with wounds and other handicaps that one rarely thought about how a person could lead their life in complete silence.
The first time I thought about deafness was after reading the life story of Helen Keller. Helen Keller lost both her eyesight and her sense of hearing when she was just one and a half. It was her brilliant teacher Anne Sullivan that opened her window to the world by letting little Helen touch objects and by spelling words on her hand. Helen Keller became a famous writer and died in 1968 at the age of 88.
As time went by, many US series began to incorporate the topic of deafness into their programmes. In addition, films began to have “lip reading” and sign language in them.
But it took decades before I was introduced to two children that appeared on the show ‘Licht ins Dunkel’ [‘Light into the dark’ = annual telethon held in Austria on the 24th December] who I would never have guessed had once been deaf.
I think it’s a miracle
At that time, we decided to invite representatives of major donors to a discussion we were holding. Ewald Thurner from MED-EL brought along three children: His daughter Barbara and her friend Sophie, both primary school age, as well as Max, who was somewhat older. I was informed that Sophie and Max were born deaf, but had been provided with cochlear implants that enabled them to hear and speak.
Thurner talked about the unique technology behind the Austrian development of implants and how the company would like to use its donation to support patients after implantation. The greatest sensation, however, was the three children who chatted with each other and with me with relative ease. In any case, I found it a miracle that these children were able to gain back their sense of hearing. This gives hope for those in old age, when suddenly the ears don’t want to play along anymore.
It is hard to imagine what else could have been given to the world if this invention and technique had existed during Beethoven’s lifetime.
Apropos Beethoven: Everything to do with this great composer can be seen at the House of Music in Vienna’s city centre, where I will present the conference programme for the MED-EL exhibition HÖREN BEWEGT. This is a great opportunity to meet people who are well cared for and happy with their hearing system and who are enabled to listen to music as an integral part of their lives.