I was born with normal hearing and attended school and did nursing training without any problems. Music education was not part of my upbringing even though my father played harmonica and concertina and my brother learnt mandolin. I taught myself to play the recorder and to read music and I sometimes played with my father and brother in family music sessions. However, my main interest was painting and textile arts.
As an adult I had some piano lessons with my children, and then we all had accordion lessons but I continued to find relaxation in textile art.
When my children were finishing school I decided it was time to get my bachelor of nursing so I went to university and over several years completed a number of degrees in the health sciences. By this time, I was starting to experience difficulty with hearing which made lectures and tutorials difficult but I still managed to do well.
While at university, both my older children became involved in historical re-enactment. I was fascinated and got involved too. With my knowledge of textiles I made costumes for myself and for others. I went to a feast where I heard medieval music being played and I was fascinated. I brought out and dusted off my recorder and started to play again. My daughter decided to teach herself violin and she and I played music together. She started to have a monthly session at her place with friends.
My daughter knew I was having difficulty hearing and she would always face me whilst we played. I really enjoyed these times.
My daughter decided to leave university, and do an apprenticeship as a baker, then she moved to Western Australia with her partner. I missed her desperately, and our times playing music together, as well as her support with my hearing loss.
As a response, I took up a new challenge: English concertina and went to Celtic Southern Cross Summer school. I experienced playing music with others and loved it.
Over the next couple of years my hearing loss markedly increased and I found myself withdrawing socially. I stopped going out with friends and going to gatherings. I was embarrassed as I often had to ask people to repeat what they had said. I’d looked into hearing aids but they were very expensive, far too expensive I thought. George (Shirley’s partner) was very supportive and encouraged me to get hearing aids. I think he was finding communicating with me difficult.
There was a period of adjustment to the aids and I could engage socially again. I found the concertina became difficult to play as I heard a different sound with my hearing aids and the concertina echoed.
I wanted to play music so I needed to find an instrument that would work with hearing aids and to find a way of dealing with the change I was experiencing with sound through wearing the hearing aids.
I was at an event in Western Australia when I met a lady playing a harp and she invited me to have a go. I had bought a harp a couple of years previously at Maldon folk festival but I hadn’t done anything with it. I realised as I plucked the strings that I could both hear and feel the vibration of the harp, and I knew that when I got home I would have to learn to play my harp.
Read in part two about how Shirley learned to play the harp using determination and technology too, and Shirley’s insights into the benefits of playing the harp for a hearing impaired person. Part two is here!