by KAHLA PRESTON
Imagine having never heard ‘music’. In fact imagine never knowing what ‘music’ even meant, or most importantly how it could make you feel. And then imagine what it would be life for that to change.
Austin Chapman was born profoundly deaf.
Although hearing aids provided some assistance, they were limited in range and incapable of distributing the higher frequencies of music; to him, it sounded like “garbled gibberish”.
However, as Chapman writes, a new set of hearing aids literally opened his ears to the full surround-sound experience, for the first time in his life:
The first thing I heard was my shoe scraping across the carpet; it startled me. I have never heard that before and out of ignorance, I assumed it was too quiet for anyone to hear.
I sat in the doctor’s office frozen as a cacophony of sounds attacked me. The whir of the computer, the hum of the AC, the clacking of the keyboard, and when my best friend walked in I couldn’t believe that he had a slight rasp to his voice.
That night, Chapman’s friends embarked on a formidable task; introducing him to some of the defining artists of music’s lengthy history. Their choices included Mozart, Elvis and Radiohead. The power of music, which had previously confounded him, was finally clear:
When Mozart’s Lacrimosa came on, I was blown away by the beauty of it. At one point of the song, it sounded like angels singing and I suddenly realized that this was the first time I was able to appreciate music. Tears rolled down my face and I tried to hide it. But when I looked over I saw that there wasn’t a dry eye in the car.
Eager to enhance his musical education, Chapman has taken his quest to the internet. His post on Reddit posed a simple question – “I can hear music for the first time ever, what should I listen to?” – has attracted a whopping 14,000 comments. Even music streaming website Spotify got on board, offering Chapman a six-month free membership.
Being confronted with hundreds of years worth of music would be rather overwhelming – really, it’s hard enough to keep up with the music being released in any given month. While most of us have had years of listening experiences – good, bad and ugly – Chapman is just beginning. Rebecca Rosen of The Atlantic got in touch with him a few weeks later to ask him about his aural exploration and how his musical tastes were developing. She writes:
I exchanged emails with Chapman to get more of a sense of what music he is enjoying and what he hasn’t quite warmed to. The first and clearest thing that comes across: Taste does not take long to develop. Right from the get-go Chapman had a very strong (and, in my personal estimation, very good) sense of what he liked and did not. Top of the like list? Classical music, which he said was “the most beautiful genre to listen to.” Country was, so far, his least favorite.
As one Reddit commenter wrote, “This is like introducing an Alien to the music of Earth. I wouldn’t know where to start.” Think about it – until just over a month ago, Chapman had never been able to appreciate every note of Hey Jude. Or Thriller. Or Fur Elise. Or The Macarena. Or Bohemian Rhapsody. He has never experienced the immense frustration of getting Call Me Maybe stuck in his head. As they say on the internet: Mind. Blown.
I don’t know how old I was when I first heard music, or what song it was. Perhaps it was a lullaby, or maybe it was a track from my parents’ personal collections (I was born in the 80s, so just use your imagination. Wham!, anybody?). I find it incomprehensible that I have no memory of my first encounter with music, given that it is inextricably linked to the other significant experiences and memories of my life.
Certain songs can immediately transport me back to a precise moment in my past. I can remember exactly where and how old I was, and exactly how the song made me feel – it’s like sensory time travel. I can’t imagine how it would feel to hear a simple melody, instrument or rhythm for the first time; to have never before been moved to tears, goosebumps or the dancefloor by powerful lyrics or a great combination of chords.
We all have songs we wish we could listen to for the first time again; to hear, for the first time, those melodies and lyrics that speak right to our emotions. It’s rare to have the opportunity to introduce these tunes to someone who has never experienced them.
Kahla is an almost-graduate of Journalism & International Studies, combining her love of words with her desire to become a French-speaking savant (and thus seduce Guillaume Canet). She’s currently interning at Mamamia. You can find her on Twitter here.
So, over to you MM readers. If you were hearing music for the first time, what song would you listen to?