How hearing loss doesn’t have to stop the music

Ian Bushnell 3 May 2021
Kristen Sutcliffe

Audiologist and bassoonist Kristen Sutcliffe is out to make music enjoyable again for those suffering hearing loss. Photo: CSO.

A Canberra musical program is hitting the right note with people who have or are suffering hearing loss, retaining and restoring one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Audiologist and Canberra Symphony Orchestra bassoon play Kristen Sutcliffe runs the Rediscovering Music program under the CSO banner in partnership with Better Hearing Australia.

This week she and CSO oboist Julie Igglesden will stage two free interactive performances at the Hellenic Club in Woden, the program’s first live concert since the pandemic restricted gatherings.

It is aimed at people with various levels of hearing loss, or wearing hearing aids or Cochlear implants, who are no longer enjoying music but miss it in their lives.

“It’s a rehabilitative approach,” Sutcliffe said.

“We want to show that music can still be enjoyable – we just have to approach it in the right way.”

It will feature the first live concert performance of a piece specifically written for Sutcliffe and the bassoon, called Herr Beethoven’s Audiologist by Australian composer Vincent Plush and inspired by his annual hearing test which made him wonder what that would sound like to the great composer as he was losing his hearing.

Sutcliffe says it will be quite ‘out there’, employing a variety of techniques to create different sounds including key slapping and multiple notes played at the same time.

But there will also be normal sounds and the rest of the program includes the more familiar Nutcracker from Tchaikovsky, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances and some Mozart.

In fact, familiarity is a key component of the program so people have their aural memory to draw on.

It also uses visual cues such as YouTube videos which Sutcliffe calls the musical equivalent of lip reading.


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She says the concerts are usually pared back with only one or a few instruments so audiences can easily differentiate sounds and parts.

“We don’t want the whole orchestra – it’s too complex and can be a cacophony of sound,” she said.

“That’s why these concerts are specifically very small so it’s much easier for people to hear those lines of music and home in on them and enjoy them rather than experience a great big mess.”

The oboe and bassoon make the perfect combination for listeners, having quite distinct tones.

Sutcliffe said the program focused on what could be included not what may be difficult for listeners to hear or experience.

“Let’s look at the things that we can optimise to make the experience as good as possible,” she said.

“Some people who have basically given up on listening to music because it was no longer pleasurable have been able to turn that around and become music lovers again.”

Sutcliffe recalled how one man who had struggled with his hearing all his life stood up and said it had been the first time in 70 years he had been able to hear and enjoy music.

The event also combines information with the music and Sutcliffe said she was happy to discuss individual situations. People can even bring their hearing test results that allow her to help them tailor their own musical program.

Rediscovering Music

Tuesday 4 May, 2021.

Hellenic Club of Canberra, Matilda Street, Phillip (Apollo Room), 2 pm and 5:30 pm.

Kristen Sutcliffe, basoon, and Julie Igglesden, oboe.

To register go to the CSO website or call 6262 6772 (weekdays 10 am – 3 pm).


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