The Battle of the Senses

A Pianist Confronts Hearing Loss

by David Holzman

October, 2017


For several months, I have become increasingly aware of a strange and unpleasant sensation within me. I will be sitting on my living room chair and realize that it is time to get to the piano to practice. My body recoils somewhat, and my mind goes still - HESITATION. But why? Is it the music, the summer, the lack of immediate concert dates? Maybe all, but I have been through that before and I never felt this quivering emotion. I slowly realize that it is, and has been for longer than I suspected, FEAR.

I am afraid of the sound of the piano and its impact on my ear, my brain and my musicality. The sound, focused on my left ear, is often powerfully brilliant -- why not, given my old Steinway? The sound resonates so richly that my ear seems to tremble while my right ear is humbled, hearing little or, seemingly, nothing at all. At other times I will hear a mellow, friendly sound -- but it seems to forget its pitch and wanders a bit up the scale. Sometimes, my right ear will get its bearings in a few minutes and a sense of equality arises. Sounds will grow or weaken after an hour or so, but productive work is achieved with the will-power to sit, start playing, and wait for my brain to adjust to this alien sonic neighborhood.

The reason my brain-ear-body-soul is left hanging is that my left ear has been virtually deaf for sixty years, and now is not only learning to hear -- words and pitches, but taking away the reigning role from my right ear, long used to giving me musical and all sonic facts of life.

I am describing the cochlear implant that has been inside me for more than two years. My brain is still adjusting and, despite doctor's pessimism, I seem to hear real pitches which are slowly becoming close to the same pitch as in my right ear which uses a hearing aid and still has perfect pitch. My brain is apparently afraid of new sensations be they positive or negative. For me, the positive outweighs the negative. I simply did not allow for the slow transition which my brain requires, or for the insanely erratic quality of the journey.

Still, the joy of Paul Robeson's deep voice is now matched by the harps I never heard in the background; hearing movie dialogue with, at times, no effort is a new sensation. Perhaps most, the ability to disentangle the violin line from my own swirling piano part in a Brahms Sonata is perhaps the most important: I can perform with others again.

While this is not the first experience with hearing loss or hearing 'gain', it is the most drastic, profound and -- despite the frailty of body and machine -- most inspiring. I have been a pianist through many such changes as well as other challenges, and what follows is largely the story of my eventual responses to each challenge. I am describing how I sought to understand, overcome and grow, both pianistically and personally.


II

At nine years of age, I lost virtually all the hearing in my left ear and paid a heavy price, personally and musically. Oliver Sacks described hearing music with one ear in "In Living Stereo". All the symptoms he described were true of me, though it took decades to recognize, acknowledge and, ultimately take actions to overcome these handicaps as well as possible. In truth, I never fully acknowledged it or took action until I lost much of the hearing in my other ear.

The loss of an ear created four problems for me as a young piano student and professional.

Most obviously, loss of volume and quicker dissipation of the sound. That became clear when I started playing chamber music in my early teens. I simply was too loud for my ensemble partners. If it sounds simple to say 'play softer', it wasn't. I would press my fingers less deeply into the keys but could not hear either the balance between parts nor the quality of my own sound. It took time, patient partners and, ultimately, my two new 'ears' to overcome this with confidence. The early dissipation of sound made slow music more difficult as often pitches in the middle of phrases would be lost before I could continue the phrase. The opening of Schubert's G Major Sonata and the first few pages of the Copland Variations were almost impossible as I could not yet focus my imagination to continue to 'hear' the pitches.

Distortion: It should have been obvious, but it took fifteen to twenty years to recognize that because I heard nothing from the left side, I would play my left hand ie; bass register, too loudly for my right hand treble. After I saw some comments from judges in a competition with mentioned this flaw, I became aware of it. The overcoming still took years and was an epiphany. My body -- from finger to toe -- became my ears and made me the pianist I am today.

Clarity: This is the crucial element in learning complex music. Due to seven intense years of solfege, my right ear heard very well. I had perfect pitch, basic chord progressions were easily recognized and my rhythmic and digital memory were already superb (perhaps my brainís making up for hearing loss). These carried me over many hurdles. What I lost was the ability to hear inner voices. In addition, complex chords of more than four pitches were a challenge. I recall giving up on the opening of Schoenberg's Op. 33 #1 as I could not yet compensate with hand position awareness.

Spontaneity: Music did not seem to reach me immediately. It seemed as though there was a layer of wax between the sound and my inner ear. I recall chamber concerts I attended at Washington Irving High and I was to some degree pretending to be so enthusiastic afterwards. What needs stressing is that practicing -- seeing, touching and hearing from close up -- was probably little affected. It was as a listener, especially from the distance, that I was damaged.


III

At the age of eighteen, I developed partial-lobe epilepsy. It surely damaged me as much as hearing loss, but this is not the place for detailed description. The crucial damage to me, pianistically, was in the vast array of medications which were tried and abandoned. All bodies are different and seizures arise from different parts of the brain. Thus, the chaos with medications. Suffice it to say that all have had similar effects upon me. There is a degree of mental sluggishness; certain muscles are weakened; eye focus is weakened. The aim of doctors is to find a medication which clamps down on seizures to a sufficient degree while keeping the above and other side-effects to an acceptable minimum. It was, and still is, an ongoing process for me. My choice of pianism -- especially complex new music -- made even the smallest loss of mental and physical agility both noticeable and damaging.

I had reached a fairly stable balance with medication and by my mid-20s was an active member of New York's new music community. In my early 40s, I was challenged by the most challenging of solo piano music and my vanity was sadly at its height. I felt that the mental and physical efforts needed for works such as the Maxwell Davies' Sonata and Martino's Pianississimo were the fault of the medicine more than the music. Whether true or not, I made a bad decision and looked for other medicines with the help of my neurologist. The result was a cornucopia of chemicals, all of which did more harm than good. The fourth choice seemed to have the least side-effects but also the least ability to protect me from seizures. In the midst of a busy day's practicing, I took a bike ride, had a seizure, fell off, and damaged my right ear. I still recall a doctor's terse comment: "You have a grade-B ear..."

The essence of this paper begins at that point in 1995. I asked myself "Am I still a pianist?". A hearing aid was needed for speech, but was of no value for music. My chamber career was largely over as I was close to deaf. But, after a few years of stumbling, I fully faced my situation and became not just a pianist, but a better pianist.


IV

In 1998, Austin Clarkson of the Stefan Wolpe Society asked me to make an all-Wolpe CD for Bridge Records as part of the Wolpe Centennial celebrations. This would be the second disc in a massive undertaking -- his complete works. I was naturally thrilled and, while the 26-minute Battle Piece would be the centerpiece, the remaining forty minutes was music I did not know. This event put the plug back in the musical socket and gave my career meaning again. It also, by the demand for mastery of details, meant the need and grim satisfaction of fully confronting my near-deafness.

The piece which first confronted me, and was the deepest challenge, was Waltz for Merle (1950). With its modest title, brevity and unassuming look on the score, it did not create the awe-inspiring feeling of BP or PPP. However, soon after starting work, I realized that it was as 'unplayable' as the above two and, a bit later, I realized that it was a masterpiece -- an intense and concentrated mix of Vienna, jazz and avant-garde serialism. It would require the utmost physical and mental agility and full keyboard awareness. I set to work.

Fully confronting my hearing loss meant recognizing and admitting what I heard when playing. Sounds were distant and vague -- almost a dream with little pitch recognition. Overcoming this meant being fully, almost painfully, engaged in hearing and recognizing what was in front of me and recreating it with my fingers and all of my body. I was no longer rushing to rehearsals, so I had time at my disposal to slowly walk up this staircase to mastery. I experienced the following: (Ex. 1) I could hear the right hand in ms. 1 and 2. I could NOT hear the full atonal chords of ms. 3 and could barely hear the top notes. In ms. 13, I could hear the right handís pitches when playing slowly. I could NOT hear the left hand pitches unless practicing slow and hands separate with tenuto (to let the sounds reach mental awareness). Playing hands together, I heard few pitches, none easily.

The volatility of the rhythmic patterns is extreme, demanding great mental quickness. The left hand in ms. 13-14 is a bit relaxed, (Ex. 2) like a plucked bass. But by ms. 15, it is suddenly an eighth sooner and then yet another eight sooner. It is a jolt to the brain unless the left hand is utterly autonomous in rhythm (I noticed a minute head-snap when it starts speeding up). Autonomy in touch and keyboard awareness is also a must. These six bars alone took countless hours of slow work. (Ex. 3) From bar 59 through the rest of the page, I could with effort, hear melody notes (whether in top or middle stave) and the bass chords as they were close to tonal. I could NOT make out any other pitches, especially the top chords.

To avoid mental confusion, my eyes had to largely stay relaxed and in one place, though a nuance of eyeball motion was possible -- as long as my head stayed put!

What had seemed almost unplayable and unhearable was slowly learned and, after many performances, made my own. What I had ignored or half-recognized was now a tool of necessity for all music.

There was an ideal hand position and fingering to be found and memorized to make every gesture as natural as possible.

I needed to feel a full chord in my hands even while only hearing top note. Thus, I needed intense awareness of inner fingers as they will play notes I do not hear. Breaking chords is a valuable learning technique for me.

I needed to be in a constant state of 'becoming' mentally and physically ie; thinking and hearing ahead. I have no time to stand around in such complex passages. I achieved this, in part, with a medical compromise. I reduced the dosage of lamictal with the acquiescence of my neurologist. It allowed my brain to move a bit faster. It also led to more seizures, but that is the lamentable balancing act which never leaves my life.

Practicing became consciousness of finger and hand. If I felt a finger hitting two notes rather than one, I stopped to go over it. Discomfort was a sign of trouble -- if I did not get to new position quickly and easily, I stopped.

If my mind was uncertain, I stopped.

Thus, practicing was a long and arduous task. Strangely, it became satisfying as I felt the slow-motion wheels of progress.

The Wolpe CD was a success, winning several awards. It was the first of five on the Bridge label, all involving challenging masterpieces of the recent past. All were learned and recorded with varying issues of hearing challenges and all required an enormous and frustrating effort to reach mastery. Here are a few examples.


V

The Finale of Roger Sessions' Sonata #1 was a grueling task for me, as for any pianist (Ex. 4). It combined a jaunty melody with a brilliant and jazzy counterpoint in 16th notes where the accents between hands seldom met. While I could easily hear the melody, the left hand was just a whirr of darts with no pitch clarity. This meant that, as stated above, fingering was the basic first step with slow hands-separate work and a pencil in my hand. Quick registral leaps and crowded passagework (where one hand plays and crowded passagework (where one hand plays basically on top of the other) made virtually everything an awkward execution -- something that had to be totally overcome to allow the carefree joy of the piece to come forth.

Fingers did the basic work, but accents all required attacks from the elbow (it was too fast for wrist attacks and any attempt to 'tell' a finger to hit the key harder would create effort, self-consciousness and confusion. In addition, fingers needed different degrees of curve (the fifth was utterly flat for jazz syncopations). The hand position (direction and height of wrist) needed to be flexible so that far-away notes could be reached with no sudden jerks or drastic changes. I often put words or symbols such as slanted arrows in the score to be sure that it was always done the same way.

All of the above took months of hands separate work, and eventually the most important pitches stayed in my head so that I had sign-posts to guide me towards finger memory. I also learned to hear the pitches in relation to the melody above -- they were usually jazz-like altercations which fell between the eighth notes of the right- hand melody.

The right hand itself is a jocular tune of largely wrist bounces. Whenever there are quarters, the arm gives added weight and, as the complexities slowly are mastered, one is left with a dizzying two-part invention.

As I learned early, balance was crucial. Especially with my hearing problem, the right hand would be utterly submerged by the left hand unless I not only leaned towards the top of the keyboard (added weight), but also felt that my left hand was playing utterly on the edges of my fingertips and only half-way down--playing on the surface of the keys.

Thus the complexities of this movement. It is, like so much of this virtuoso repertoire, a choreography. My hands are dancers and I am, perhaps literally, certainly mentally, holding my breath for a long stretch, perhaps even a full page, to allow my body to create this interaction with as little mental intrusion as possible.

Another reason one feels the need to hold oneís breath is that there are no real traffic signs -- ie no clear harmonic background and, more important, no real way to hear beats. Chopin's G Major Prelude is pianistically similar but meter and harmonic motion are tangible.

Here, one feels that one is dancing on the edge of the universe, with a void lurking behind -- a feeling of intensity. Fear but also electric joy -- just the sensation of an aura preceding a seizure.

The opening of his Sonata #3, a memorial to JFK, has an even vaster emptiness as a backdrop and again one's breath must somehow be held. It slowly comes to life, but each note is a sigh of a different touch and weight. One's fingers, wrist and arm are here combined to find deathlike sorrow. The notes died too soon due to my hearing loss and thus my eyes can ONLY be shut if I am to commune with the keys and make each vanishing sound follow the next and lead to the tender song which emerges.

Again, there are no beats and yet one must hear a pulse somewhere deep inside oneself in order to evoke the meaning of upbeats and syncopations. The deeper inside oneself one hears the pulse, the better for the sake of the interpretation. For me, such submerging of beats in slow, deeply expressive music always shows on my face. Interestingly, in this almost motionless movement, my whole upper body partakes of the choreography.


VI

The second movement of Ralph Shapey's Mutations II is similar to the Sessions Finale in its challenges. Ex.5. The two hands are in different sound worlds and must become autonomous before being able to work together. The right hand consists of severely dissonant two-note chords which jump all over the keyboard. Hearing them accurately was the final gift, as was feeling the warring and unwavering phrases between the hands.

Reviewers praised my recording, describing this passage as "sounding like twenty fingers". It would have been more accurate to have said "four hands" as fingers had the least to do with the technique needed for mastery. It was arm, hand position, gestures and -- crucially -- intense awareness of patterns, both pianistic and rhythmic. The violent left hand ostinato was essentially a heavy arm attack on the low C; a smaller one to get to the third note (G) and another heavy arm attack on F with the remaining notes finger touches. The pattern is endlessly repeated and the violence can only be presented nakedly with these two heavy attacks. My debate over whether my hands should be outside keys for comfort or inside for purity of touch was won by INSIDE to create an autonomous and violent machine. This meant that fifth finger on F could only be very curved -- the opposite of fifth finger accents in Sessions. Thus, all I thought about and heard were C and F and the choreography was the final F sharp of the pattern, rising and then landing four octaves lower on the next C. This attack on the low C required courage as well. Many pianists will fear that a violent attack on a curved fifth finger could perhaps break a bone. But the music came first! Here, interestingly, the black note-white note patterns of the left hand are comfortable (when the best fingering is found) and make digital memory easy and hearing pitches a non-factor after first note of pattern is swooped down upon.

The rhythms would be daunting to an inexperienced performer, as triplets within triplets need to be learned. They become part of one's repertoire early as one learns subdivision and uses it in more complex ways. Here, Shapey's basically nine against eight with starts on unusual parts of the beat made subdividing an impossibility. All one could and should do is know where phrases start vis a vis the left hand and, if needed, put a few numbers (divisions of 72) in the score. But, as always, one must learn hands separately for as long as needed and struggle hands together in a machine-like way for a short while. Ultimately, as with Sessions and virtually all such perpetual motion music, the apotheosis is two utterly independent entities, with the mind left to feel long-range motions and dynamic climaxes.


VII

After the completion of the Sessions/Shapey disc, my audiologist told me that a 'music program' had been developed for my hearing aid and he would like to see if it would be helpful. I was eager, but wary. I dearly missed hearing the clarity for which I had been praised but could only confirm with my fingers. Volume and resonance were magic words -- memories of my healthy childhood. I was, however, wary. I had developed a strenuous but successful means of learning and performing and was afraid of hearing alien sounds as I approached sixty. My pianistic personality seemed set.

I asked the pianist Russell Sherman what he thought. Even over the phone, his passion was clear. He was begging me NOT to use a hearing aid for playing piano. He mentioned that Josef Hoffmann performed with ear plugs. His point was that what I heard inside was more important than the actual sound.

I decided to accept my doctorís suggestion and for several years used this program. As it turned out, Russell was about 50% correct, if not more. Volume and clarity increased, and pitch recognition was a little more clear (though not chords). The two receivers in the program made stereophonic hearing a little more real, but that was where the benefits ended.

Clarity vs. natural sound was a debate within me for decades. With this device, there was no trace of natural. The sound was artificial in its metallic quality and grating to my senses, whatever volume I chose. Worse, the problems of a 'grade B ear' were never explained to me by my doctor. My right ear now heard some frequencies well and barely heard others. That was why hearing sentences was so difficult: every consonant has a different frequency.

Hence, the irregular volume of my piano pitches was neither my finger's fault, nor my piano's -- it was my ear. The music program only enhanced this unevenness. The second Sessions CD was benefitted, especially as I performed his complex Violin Duo, and the Piano Sonata #2 was a very percussive and fast-moving work. I felt, however that I could not fully release myself into my dream in the richly expressive moments of Sessions and, later, Poul Ruders. I was spending too much of my energy trying to ignore harshness. This was less inspiring and freeing than simply imagining sounds, as I had done before.

I changed audiologist and she scoffed at the music program. I used the regular program at the piano for my next Wolpe CD, as I could no longer go back to near-deafness after three years of hearing with some kind of volume. What was clear was that the Ďmusic programí was more for listeners than performers. Whichever solution I chose, the toll on my emotions and perhaps my brain was growing greater. Clarity vs. natural sound and beauty was an insoluble dilemma then and still seems so too often now.

I started learning Melinda Wagner's Noggin in 2014 for a performance at Spectrum in New York. It was a difficult time for me as my hearing was at its worst (Cochlear Implant was a few months ahead) and I was still adjusting to a new medication for seizures (which meant taking too much and slowly weaning myself on to lower dosages to see where the threshold of safety lay). Hence, the fast and rhythmically chaotic chords of mvt. 4 (Ex. 6) were even harder to master than usual.

The chords were slightly thicker than Shapey's. In addition, the right hand is neither a melody to whistle as in Sessions nor a pattern which gains familiarity due to repetition. This line was, as she wrote, "fractured and eccentric". When I return to the piece in the future, I might well wonder: "What was the fuss about?" But, given my condition, I spent a great deal of time on the most painfully slow fundamentals -- what an early teacher called 'preparation of chords'.

While at first done hands apart, it was, as soon as possible, a hands- together issue as was true in Martino's PPP. Single hand work is largely meaningless without the metric context of the whole; in addition, the physical recognition of which hand is above the other in the often-awkward execution needed to be known from the start.

Hearing pitches clearly combined with muscle memory required a multi-step process which could be notated fairly well as follows:
   Putting hand or hands in place (muscle memory)
   Hearing chord in head (inner hearing of pitches)
   Playing chord
   Signal from (or perhaps to) brain that sounds are heard
   Then: What is next? Hear in head, put hands in place and play (preparation)

This process, especially step two, was grueling and reminiscent of acupuncture treatment from a few years earlier. David Mainenti, the acupuncturist, had an extremely intense, almost pained, look on his face when summoning the outer force to travel from his brain to my body. My expression, when demanding that my brain hear the chord, was just like his.

Rhythmic memory is, again, a crucial part of my technical repertoire. Interestingly, during the months of arduous work, there was also a steady, if slight, reduction in vimpat, the new medication. I could feel that these dual brain signals of awareness were quickening as I reduced the medicine. Instantaneous is what one thinks of as 'natural' or 'effortless'. I will probably reach that point, or close to it, in a future performance. But I did not reach it at Spectrum. I felt the mental effort and physical difficulty and it clearly detracted from the performance in terms of momentum and personal communication, not to mention clarity.


VIII

My major pianistic efforts of 2015-2016 were recording projects, featuring music of James Ricci, John McDonald and William Bland. The hearing challenges I now faced were as great as in Noggin due to the cochlear implant (CI) which had been put in my head and activated in July of 2015. As I wrote earlier, it was and still is a long path for the brain to get used to the CI by itself, as was a vastly longer and more fatiguing path for my brain to reconcile the different sounds coming from either side of my head. Pitches were not the same -- the CI pitch is not precise and is about a semi-tone higher than the HA tone. The digital beeps of the CI only gradually are being translated or merged into musical tones and every change made in either device creates a week or two of musical schizophrenia still, as my brain seeks to reconcile the sensory differences. I was encouraged by doctors who knew me and said that music was as much my language as speech and the transition to unity would indeed take place. It was a much more eccentric and long journey than I expected, as many of my despairing diary entries attest. Nonetheless, I continued work and progress on the music reached a climax in June of 2017 when I spent three days completing these three recordings.

The Bland Sonatas were especially challenging in that they make use of many traditional 19th Century Romantic pianistic techniques amid their long melodies and often tonal harmonies. It was a joy to wade into such forgotten terrain, as well as to return to a pianism I had bid farewell to for many years.

Perhaps the greatest challenge was the bombastic chord progressions in movement II of the A minor Sonata (Ex. 7). Unlike Shapey or Wagner, the chords are largely familiar tonal patterns -- major, minor or augmented. Ricci and McDonald do what is common now which is to put accidentals on every note for clarity. Bland uses the tradition method of one accidental until cancelled by a natural. This left me looking backwards constantly to check if a sharp or flat were written in four or five chords earlier. Either method of notation is tough on the eyes or brain in such thick music.

With my limited ability to discern half-tones, learning, let alone memorizing, was terribly slow and I needed to look for patterns to find a road-map. The best I could do for starters was to recognize the many augmented triads and, since I could hear them in my head and feel them in my fingers, label every such chord in the score, ie. AUG. This was, again, hands separate work which took months to provide comfortable progressions from one thick chord to the next.

I slowly began to feel the melodic pattern of each hand and realized that the hands were in a kind of two-part counterpoint in contrary motion, strangely like a thick version of the Bach E Major Two-Part Invention. Thus, I felt and soon memorized the left hand lines with the right hand as a chromatic mirror. Ultimately, I memorized the inner notes which gave the triad its type. This led to my inner fingers automatically going to the right notes -- whether up a half-step or a whole-step or staying in place. By November of 2016 I began to hear each handís chord out of a different ear and it led to mastery of a stereophonic type that was new to me. I could finally make the passage virtuoso and communicative music.

Yet another case of mind preceding hearing or notation was found in his cadenzas (Ex. 8). Simply looking at an endless stream of fast sixteenths was disheartening as one saw pure chaos. I had experience with 'chaos' before and realized that it was up to me to give it street signs. I eventually realized that I had to feel it largely as groups of 4+4 with numerous exceptions. For the sake of hearing a pattern, I mentally added a sixteenth rest to the very beginning and thus could hear groups of four. Soon enough, I had to add one note (five) and then two more before returning to the basic four. Even this degree of intellectual rebuilding was enough. Re fingering, I found that I would use a basic fingering and somewhere in the middle a strange interval would appear. That would tell me that now I must change the general pattern from 1-2-3 to 1-2-3-4. Months later, I suddenly found myself playing the page super-fast and from memory, with only a degree of uncertainty towards the end. This happened with all of his 'unplayable' cadenzas and each time I mastered a new one I found that I would stop playing with my mouth open and my eyes wide with disbelief that I had reached this point.

John McDonald has been a musical colleague for two decades and has become a close friend as well. While most of the character pieces I recorded were based on his own life experiences, several were inspired by my own life, including works capturing my sensations of hearing both with and without mechanical help. He wrote African Allegro for a concert I gave in the African Museum of New Jersey. The physical, emotional and spiritual experience of a few dayís work on it was an indelible memory. I take a page from my diary which describes the experience with prelude and aftermath first-hand.

2/24/16

One Dimension (weightless) -- A Portent..

I have been practicing furiously for a few weeks in preparation for a concert at school. All the music was new and I would be recording it in the future. All was intense. Thick chords, violent dynamics, and complex counterpoint.

I had been hearing poorly for my evening class and was learning that I was still not ready for a full dayís work at piano or even a full dayís hearing. Volume would suddenly be muffled in class though hearing voices was still easier than hearing piano.

During my long and deep sleep (thanks to the new medicine Onfi) I had been having numerous violent and surreal nightmares -- usually inspired by daily events. One involved my dear friends Joelle and George. I went to visit unannounced but they were too busy to see me. A Frenchman was there, clearly taken from the movie ĎSabrinaí. I was the shy Sabrina. I found a stairway which I hoped would lead to the street (it was the same stairway that I used at NYU Cochlear Center). Despite a locked door, I found myself walking up 2nd Avenue. It was surreal as there were no cars, no pedestrians and all buildings were pure glass. When I tried crossing a diagonal street, the cars came rushing back and I reared for my life as my balance was poor... the violent world returned. I woke up soon after.

As noted, my practicing was intense. One piece on the program was 'African Allegro' by John McDonald. It began with violent octaves on D and B in the treble. They quickly led to a chord two octaves below and I had to work long and hard to make the connection quickly. Those two treble pitches seemed to directly stimulate two of the electrodes in my CI and after twenty minutes work, my head was swimming. William Blandís 'Sonata' included similar such music and by 2/20 I found that by evening I heard virtually nothing at the piano. It was indeed frightening -- the worst apex of the cycle which kept coming around every month or so. This was the first time it had led to virtual deafness at piano and with TV and radio. My right ear seems virtually without hearing. I tried using Common Sense, as always, to tell myself that it would pass, but, as always, my emotions, ie fear and pessimism, were dominant.

blamed batteries of CI; I blamed the loose fit of HA and its age; I thought I was going even deafer and was tempted to set up an emergency appointment with my audiologist. I wrote her the following: 'I have been thru it before so will be patient... just confirm that I cannot damage my hearing by too much piano'. She wrote back saying it was ok. I checked out HA with Constance and it was ok.

That evening it happened again. I was quite rational and calm and, despite fears, realized that the worst that could happen was that I would go back to playing with one or perhaps no devices.

On Tuesday, I did so. I practiced first with only HA and then with nothing. Sound was pathetically small with no nuance -- I recognized that I was indeed learning and hearing with my fingers and hand. Remarkably, it was in some ways the most productive sixty minutes of practicing I had had for a long time. I was in my own world -- undisturbed by any noises and time was standing still -- JUST LIKE 2ND AVE IN THE DREAM.

I got up and stayed without devices for a while and an eerie, surreal feeling again, as in the dream, came to me. I could not hear myself walking on the wooden floor; the radiators were silent; opening a refrigerator door was noticeable, but not enough to remark upon. I felt weightless, with everything in my house immoveable and one-dimensional.

There seemed no gravity -- I was not solid enough to resist an aura -- ie I did not weigh enough nor have a deep enough sense of self to resist a seizure or floating on a cloud. Nothing occurred and I soon put devices back in and felt the world again.

I finally recognized my state of being during even partial deafness. I was to a degree floating above a solid, coarse planet. NOW, I hear coarse sounds -- planes, heaters, cars passing, people coughing. I feel the simple facts of life around me.

The next night, I returned from school during wind and rain and gave up finding a taxi. I took devices out for safety and walked home. The walk was pretty easy... balance pretty good, even in dark. It was a stunningly peaceful trip -- again like a small-town 2nd Avenue. TOO PEACEFUL! I felt how easy it was to ignore the world (though I was not ignoring anything on this dangerous journey). Deafness is indeed another world -- fewer dimensions and, for me, fewer people, events and ultimately emotions.

Republican Debate METAPHOR: CI is Trump yelling over powerless Wolf Blitzer (HA)

2/27 After much debate, I think I will give brain and ear a chance to adjust -- ie, I will keep both in as long as possible. LETíS SEE!

10/3/17 It is hard to write a closing paragraph as my hearing is still a work in progress. It changes constantly, depending on where I am, what I am doing and other unknowable factors. It is perhaps only a bit of imagination which allows me to see a slow but gradual path of progress which is taking me, without knowing it, forward -- musically and personally.

As I write, I am in a #7 train going to Mt. Sinai Hospital where I will play piano for patients, doctors and others. I hope to give them comfort with uncomplicated and beautiful music. I hope it will give me comfort as well -- both the music and the giving. Tomorrow I go back to practicing intense Wolpe in preparation for a concert. I live my 2nd Avenue dream and am learning to accept it by finding meaning and satisfaction, whether in the clouds or the traffic.




Musical Examples

Examples 1 and 2:



Example 3:



Example 4:



Example 5:




Example 6:





Example 7:




Example 8:






(c) 2018 David Holzman