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Beethoven as a lover?

Mom with earringsA recent visit from a favorite Taiwanese family of former students reminded me that I learned much more from my students than I ever was able to teach them. Some students studied music — seriously. They had to learn about the lives of famous composers as well as how to play their chosen instruments. While they prepared for their exams, I learned too.

What did I learn? Beautiful music can be produced by people you’d never want as a lover or even a friend. For instance, consider the despicable Wagner,

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

who’d have taken large amounts of money from you and then dropped you like a hotcake, lived as a guest in your home and then thanked you by sleeping with your wife or turning against you without hesitation. I would have preferred to hate his music, but I can’t. The work has little to do with the person who creates it.

Then, how about the great Beethoven, another truly damaged and unpleasant man. If you

Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

met him on the street, you’d have thought him to be a homeless bum and mad as a hatter. You’d not want to be his landlady, maid and certainly not his lover. The brilliant composer was a miserable, physically ugly, rather ill and difficult man. He was rude, prone to physical assaults and would smash anything in sight, including people or pianos.

Beethoven lost his mother, whom he loved, when he was 16. He was terribly abused by his alcoholic father — and developed into a vile-tempered, pathological, manic-depressed adult. Then, the deafness which plagued him from his early 30s and lead to total deafness by age 47 must have been devastating for him. (I wonder if his drunken father’s beatings around the head may have caused this.)

Did he have any lovers? We don’t know of any, although he did manage to contract gonorrhea, but most probably at a house of prostitution, a solution he professed to hate. He did propose to the young, beautiful, talented soprano, Magdalena Willmann, who turned him down because, as she said, he was ‘so ugly and half-crazy’. He never found Mrs. Right, always choosing women way above his station, much too young, and much too beautiful — and longed for love all his life. Beethoven could only see women as Madonnas or whores.

Young Beethoven

A younger Beethoven

The poor guy had pockmarked skin, no manners, spat in company, was terribly clumsy and badly coordinated. (Vestibular Disorder? Related to the beatings around the head?)  All his belongings were damaged because they got knocked over or broken. He was such a terrible tenant, he had to move from one place to another almost every year. Beethoven was just a disaster — in spite of his musical genius, he was unable to dance or even conduct in time to his own magnificent music.

Rossini in 1820

Rossini in 1820

Nonetheless, there were those who understood and admired Beethoven. Rossini, known as a nice guy, was one of them. He was able to see the most appealing qualities in Beethoven and understood the great sadness the brilliant composer lived with.

Would we have such magnificent, beautiful music by Beethoven if he had actually found happiness during his lifetime? I wonder…..

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A Discussion of hearing

What did she say???? (photo by Timothy Stark)

What did she say????
(photo by Timothy Stark)

I used to think if you develop a hearing loss, all you need to do is buy a hearing aid, wear it and you’d hear like anyone else. Was I ever wrong! Hearing loss can be very complicated and aids can’t always work magic.

When I suddenly lost the hearing in my right ear, ‘Smarty pants’ here visited a hearing aid dealer to ‘fix it’. I wasn’t going to annoy family and friends by asking them to repeat over and over again. Not me….

It was a surprise and a disappointment. No hearing aid worked. Apparently it depends on where the damage is. Although several times since I’ve tried again, it has not yet been possible for technology to correct the hearing in that ear. (I’m not giving up. Have you ever known me to do that?)

Once upon a time, I didn’t understand why friends who had aids didn’t

Speak up!

Speak up!

always wear them. Thank goodness I was smart enough to keep my big mouth shut even when I thought people who didn’t use their aids were being inconsiderate. (Bless my mom, who taught me to be kind.)

A sense of humour can always help. My late friend Hans once laughed and said ‘I know that’s not what you said, but what I heard was just hilarious!’

Still, I now realize how difficult dealing with hearing loss can be and it isn’t a joke. My working ear no longer functions as well as it used to. My family, bless them, have so far shown patience and understanding, but some of my hard-of-hearing friends are not so lucky. Lack of empathy from those around us, especially those we love, can be devastating.

Well, you probably already know there is nothing shy about me. Ergo, I am not reluctant to talk about my hearing loss. After all, it isn’t like having committed a murder or something. Nor do I mind asking to be seated where I feel I can hear best. People usually will cooperate if we explain. I’ve learned my willingness to be honest about my hearing loss is a plus.

Modern Hearing Aid

Modern Hearing Aid

As part of a class I’m so glad I attended at the Western Institute of

Ear Trumpet, 1860

Ear Trumpet, 1860

the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (WIDHH), an organization serving our community for 60 years, I learned we hard-of-hearing folk have certain rights and responsibilities. I find it interesting.

We are entitled to respect, acceptance, safety and security — and access to information. It is our responsibility to let others know we are hard-of-hearing; to carry some kind of communication device; give instructions on how best to communicate with us; and plan in advance when we can. We also need to educate ourselves about what help is available in the way of amplifiers, devices and signaling technology, and which of these can best serve us. (If a class such as the one I attended is available where you live, do take advantage of it.)

Which situations are workable? Which are not? Loud background noises can make hearing

I'm trying, I'm trying...

I’m trying, I’m trying…

impossible for me. Very soft voices are frustrating and sometimes I find myself avoiding friends whom I can’t hear, not because I don’t like them, but because they are so hard to understand it is exhausting. And, accents accompanied by a soft voice are way off the chart.

I like to see your mouth when you are talking to me — it helps a lot. If you face me, it is much easier. Talk to me from the bedroom when I’m in the kitchen and forget it. It’s all sweet nothings. Cover your mouth and I’ll probably ask you to lower your hand so I can see your lips move. I really do want to know what you’re saying.

Patience young man.

Patience young man.

What does all this mean to family and friends? What can you do to help? Know that we love you. Know we want to see you. We need you in our lives more than ever because hearing loss can be isolating and frightening. We don’t want to be cut off or dismissed, you are more important than ever. Let’s work together to create better understanding for all.