Sunday, September 30, 2007

My Left Ear [sic]

Ever since I gave up the hearing in my left ear (the 2005 price of curing an inner ear disorder that produced debilitating attacks of vertigo), I've heard music differently. It's not just that I'm no longer stereo, a hearing difference I don't really perceive. Some music sounds flatter than I recall, and lyrics are harder for me to make out, but the fact that all sound now comes to me from the right is a fact I have to take in intellectually, not one I actually experience.

The real difference is that when I listen to music in my car I now hear the harmony rather than the melody. This has something to do, I presume, with how the speakers in my car work. The difference is especially pronounced when I'm in the passenger seat. On our recent trip to Arizona, a few times I couldn't tell what song we were listening to until we got to the chorus - even when the songs were ones I've known by heart since I was in college.

I love to sing; I was a singer in high school and I'm an alto. This hearing anomaly would have come in mighty handy back then as I, along with all the other altos, struggled to sing harmony while high-pitched sopranos shrieked well-known melodies in our ears. Now, in my car, I happily belt the harmony, almost undistracted by the melody when I'm driving and completely undistracted by it when I'm in the front passenger seat. It's wonderful. Harmonies are so interesting and unexpected; they have a minor-key sort of mystery to them that I've always enjoyed, but never found easy to hear and follow the way I do now.

Could I have taught myself to hear this selectively before it was my only option? I suppose so. Had I continued to take voice lessons or tried to sing professionally in some way, I would have had to become a more reliable alto - not one who, like many, occasionally and furtively slipped into singing the melody. But tuning out the melody and singing a harmonious, but different tune is hard, especially when the melody is one you know and like. Literally and metaphorically speaking. How cool that a so-called disability has given me an ability I lacked. Makes me wonder what other skills I could develop by experiencing things differently.


Annie said...

You clearly weren't informed of the old alto trick of just singing an A all the time. You'd be surprised how often you're right.

Were you listening to the Indigo Girls?

Debra Snider said...

A little Indigo Girls, mostly Simon & Garfunkel and other 60s and 70s music. We were having a nostalgic little musical review.

Karl said...

Your experience of music through one ear is fascinating. I'm guessing there's a technical answer to why that happens, if that was even part of your inquiry here. For instance, I notice that when I try to put the phone to my left ear (usually I have it on my right ear) for some reason (like I'm doing something with my right hand, hopefully not driving as I'm WAY too smart to try that anymore!) I experience the information much differently. It's harder for me to concentrate on what's being said. I think it's about the left side of my brain vs. right. I can never keep track of which of those sides is supposed to be the creative side, which the logical side or whatever the dichotomy is. But the left ear seems to put the sound into a different part of my brain, not just a different route to the same part of my brain. And that part of my brain seems to be better at something and worse at processing sound and information like spoken words. I'm no scientist on these matters of the brain, but have read enough about related ideas to think there's some real truth in my anecdotal experience - and in yours, too!