Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Memories of missing music

I was having to face up to the awful prospect of never again hearing the haunting melody of the carols and a life without the beauty of music

Chas always been a time of great poignancy for me: I lost my hearing a few months before my twelfth birthday and on Christmas Eve of the same year I was walking home with my younger brother after a visit to my grandmother when we turned a corner and came unexpectedly upon a group of carol singers. Jack told me they were singing O Come All Ye Faithful and I burst into tears.

My deafness had not really bothered me much up till then - and now I was having to face up to the awful prospect of never again hearing the haunting melody of the carols and a life without the beauty of music.

Evelyn and I were invited out for dinner with some hearing friends after church last Sunday and the conversation gradually came round to the real meaning of Christmas and how far we have come from the story of baby Jesus as given in Luke's Gospel.

Luke simply tells us Mary wrapped her first-born in a blanket and laid him in a manger - the feeding box for animals kept in many Jewish homes - and there is no mention of a stable or the animals depicted on most Christmas cards.

We agreed that the influence of carols and Dickens' Christmas Carol has a lot to answer for in the way we now celebrate Christ's birthday.

I have to admit that my brain still hums with the music of the carols and it was a life-enhancing experience when my father took me to Belfast's Ulster Hall for a performance of Handel's Messiah a few months before I was stricken with the fever that destroyed my hearing.

I have no musical gifts whatever, but the classical music I heard as a boy still reverberates through my mind.

When people ask me what I miss most from my deafness the answer is always the same ¿ music. I just love watching close-ups of great singers on TV and letting my imagination run riot. O to hear them in reality!

A reader who lives alone and lost her hearing in later life told me she partially overcomes this frustration by making herself comfortable in the bath and bawling out all the old songs she remembers.

"I know I probably sound awful", she told me," but I don't care and it does me good; you just have to let yourself go."

Another reader told me of the great benefit she derived from her cochlear implant and keeps reminding me of what I am missing. We deafened people are agreed that music is the highest of all the arts.

As a small boy with a brother and two sisters our home was very small and there was little money, but it was a happy home and we were always comfortably clothed and with plenty to eat.

I was not deaf then and can vividly remember screaming with excitement on Christmas morning as we discovered apples and oranges and new pennies in our stockings before rushing downstairs for the big presents.

This was usually just a book and some sweets and I was in ecstasy once to discover Santa had brought me a small train set with a wind-up engine and a circular track about three feet in diameter.

There was, of course, no television in those days and we got news and music from a small radio in the living room.

I was the first born and remember how hard it was to concentrate on the programmes with all the noise going on, but I did love to listen to plays and drama and nearly all the music on radio was of the classical variety or George Formby strumming on his ukulele.

On Christmas morning these would have been changed to church services with carol singing and, as my parents were not regular church-goers, it is probably true to say that, as with millions of other families, the singing of carols had more influence on our understanding of Christmas than the words of the Bible story.

Evelyn and I love Christmas and look forward very much to dinner with our family on the big day and making contact with our son's family in Japan.

In A Christmas Carol, Dickens tried to show that what matters most to man is his behaviour towards others. He had a deep respect for religion and for the One who made religion such a vital and personal thing to mankind.

Maybe we should look again at the Bible story of how it all began.

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