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Deaf student in choir

I have been asked to evaluate a legally deaf high school student for the possibility of her joining our large mixed choir in the fall. She has a cochlear implant and can hear and speak and takes regular classes. She relies some on reading lips to do well in her classes. I have been told by her mother that she "sings around the house," and I want to assume that this means she sings tunes correctly. The school and her mother are really just curious if this would work for her; everyone will be fine if she cannot do it.
Obviously I'm going to try to assess whether she can hear and sing back pitch patterns I play on the piano. I will listen to her sing a familiar tune. I will see if she can sight read, but I  do not believe she ever has been given a chance to do that before. I will check her range, hoping she is a soprano, because I would have to imagine it would be hard for her hold onto an alto part with all the sounds of the choir coming at her. Perhaps I should hear her sing in a quartet or something to see how she holds a part she is taught.
Does anyone out there have any experience with a situation like this?? Any suggestions for how I can evaluate her abilities? Any experience with how this will affect running rehearsals, or how she will do in rehearsals? I imagine every case is unique, but any general advice or anecdotes you can offer would be greately appreciated!
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on May 25, 2013 9:37am
One of the most important factors in this situation will be HOW OLD she was when she had her cochlear implant.  If she was under five or so (two would have been ideal), you will not be able to tell she is deaf by her speaking voice. The fact you mention she relies on reading lips to a certain extent worries me a bit. The whole *legally deaf* gives me pause--who told you that and did they actually say it?  In all candor, I am the parent of a young man with autism--he's legally autistic but only became so (he was diagnosed when he was 4 but we had to call it something else for him to get services)for the school district after 1992 when then the USA department of education declared autism a *real* not sure what is meant in this case by *legally deaf*.  My husband is an ENT physician and I can tell you, there are shades of *legally deaf*---I don't think whomever told you is helping you prepare for her evaluation.  There's deaf......and then there is deaf.
Just because a person has challenges does not neccessarily mean they are intellectually challenged, so keep that in mind. I'm sure she is not stupid, so treat her like anyone else--and in fact, if she were intellectually challenged, you should still treat her like anyone else and she will do better!
Deaf folks (we call 'em "hearing impaired") can feel vibrations and feeling them will actually help with their singing.  I had a family of three children in one of my children church choirs (there were actually four kids in the family--but the baby who also sang with me was not hearing impaired--he had perfect pitch!) and the Lesley, the youngest girl, even with hearing aids, had the worst hearing.  I put her right next to the piano and actually had her put her hand on it while I was playing.  It really, really helped her her.  That might be difficult in your situation but it's something to think about for your evaluation. Anyway, face her when giving instructions.  Let her see patterns if you will be playing them on the piano.  You are probably correct in hoping she will be a soprano but you never know.  Other than trying to keep her next to a piano and perhaps right next to one of the better singers, I don't think there is much you will have to do to change your rehearsals.....other than when you give instructions, making sure she can see your lips.
Do you know about Evelyn Glennie, the profoundly deaf solo percussionist?  Go on YouTube and type in Evelyn Glennie--she's Scottish BTW.  I saw her live about 15 years ago and WOW!
I am the owner/editor for FOJN a ChoralNet Community which promotes and helps those working with people with disabilities in their choirs.  We also are there for those with questions about inclusion students.  I am tagging this thread for FOJN and if you wanted to post something there as well, it might get a better response than the general ChoralNet population.
Don't worry--it is what it is.  I'm sure she's a lovely girl who has overcome much and I bet she will be better than you can imagine.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 25, 2013 2:10pm
|| Deaf folks (we call 'em "hearing impaired")
My sister works extensively with the deaf, and all of those with whom she works detest the term "hearing impaired." They feel strongly that they are NOT impaired, and wish to be called Deaf. Based on my experience, I would ask a deaf person what his/her preference was before using the term. 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on May 25, 2013 3:54pm
Dear Tom,
I have found that my hearing impaired students do well when they have a strong singer beside them. Audiation is a bit more problematic if the brain has not had the opportunity to form a tonal vocabulary. I do not know if this is borne out by research, but I would think sustaining the hearing loss later in life would suggest that more of a tonal vocabulary might exist.
Amalie W. Hinson
on May 25, 2013 5:08pm
One of my good friends from college choir was deaf - she wears hearing aids.  She also has perfect pitch; I have no idea how this is possible.  I am still in touch with her and today, she makes her living as a piano teacher and teaches chorus as well.
Of course, each individual will have different circumstances, but indeed it is very possible for someone legally deaf to sing beautifully.  If you would like to be in touch with my friend, send me a private message and I'll forward it to her.
AMSA Charter School
Marlborough, MA
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 25, 2013 4:59pm
The deaf community (as a whole) doesn't tend to like cochlear implants, so Tom should be safe with "hearing impaired" working with this young lady.
As well, Amalie is correct in that, someone with a later hearing loss will *remember* music and have more of a tonal vocabulary than someone with an earlier hearing loss....there is research, I believe.  My husband is not only an ENT doc but a hearing scientist and this subject has often been dinner table conversation (we both work with sound of some sort and enjoy sharing info with each other). However, I do know the earlier the cochlear implant the better if a child is born with profound hearing issues.  Since this is a high school age young lady, anything could be possible. And yes, putting her next to someone who is a strong singer is a GREAT idea!
on January 26, 2014 2:31pm
One of my best friends is deaf and has a chochlear implant. She has a great musical ear, has played piano her whole life, and she regularly attends a variety of musical performances. Most people don't even know she is deaf upon first meeting her. I beleive that she would be completely fine in a choral situation on any part. From her explanations to me, she has to work to constantly block out other sounds to focus in on what she wants to hear. She naturally picks up sounds that are familiar, like voices of close friends and families. So it seems like this could be somewhat of an advantage in a choral setting.
As far as running rehearsals, she might miss a few things and you might have to slow down a bit to give her interpreter a chance to catch up (if she has one). But in time she will get more used to reading your lips, face, and gestures as well as the sound of your voice. I imagine it is like speaking to someone with a heavy accent, in time you get used to it and it gets easier to understand.
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