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Conducting: Hearing aid advice for conductors

Dear Friends

Many thanks for all the kind words and helpful suggestions I have copied
here my original post, and the notes that were offering recommendations of
some kind. You will notice that the two recurring themes are (1) the right
equipment, and (2) the right person (meaning ENT/audiologist). There is no
substitute for the experience and expertise of someone who has worked
successfully with singers/directors.

Having said all that, a question I asked but which has not been answered:
Has this topic ever been addressed at or through ACDA? Chorus America?

thanks again I will probably be pursuing hearing aids sometime over the
summer, and will send word a bit later about the process/results.


Dave Stuntz
Blacknall Presbyterian Church
1902 Perry Street
Durham, NC 27705

> Dear Friends
> I am experiencing a significant and increasing hearing loss in both ears,
all of it high frequency (consonants, esp. from women's voices) this has
obvious repercussions (none of them pleasant) in conversational settings,
but also affects rehearsals. I am also a singer and pianist.

Anyone on the list with any experience with something similar, especially
with the issue of hearing aids, please contact me. I find it difficult to
believe that I am the first; what has been done, what is new on the market,
with what degree of success? Is this a topic that has been addressed
before, here? via ACDA? Chorus America?

REPLIES (names withheld)

Dave; Welcome to the club! I experienced the same thing several years
ago. After a visit to a specialist I was referred to a Hearind Aid
Center in Nashville. My instruments are by Siemens and are the small -
inside the ear - type. They are totally computerized with the intent of
improving those area of hearing loss up to normal. I continue to
conduct and have experienced no problems in that regard. Most of the
time now I am unaware that they are there.

I'm glad to see this addressed. I am a singer, choir member, and voice
teacher and have a 70% hearing loss in one ear. (They're not exactly sure
why, despite testing; I don't fit any textbook description.) But, I finally
decided to get a hearing aid. I purchased a digital hearing aid which fits
in the canal and has 3different settings plus volume control. My problem
was my hearing aid salesman/professional. He didn't help me with the
special needs of hearing in a musical setting. I finally had to switch to
adifferent company, upgrade my hearing aid, etc. It was very frustrating!

My advice: ask if the hearing aid professional has any experience with
working with singers/musicians. Even contact the company they represent and
ask about their product & musicians via customer service.

I have heard good things about the Diva hearing aid. Also, it was suggested
that a musician may want a behind-the-ear aid (rather than in the canal) so
it leaves the ear canal open. I also received some good advice from a
specialist in Omaha regarding settings for the hearing aid to help in
musical situations if you're interested after your purchase.


My husband is an ENT doc with a hearing aide business as part of his private
practice and a audiologist on his staff. I do know there are amazing
digital and programmable aids out there, with new things out every day. I
am forwarding your query to hubby to see what he has to say, then will pass
on the info to you. He is usually on top of these things.
(His reply)
Hearing aids are better, but they are **not** "miracles" as some brands
might lead one to believe. There is a newer level of technology recently
offered over the past 6 months or soso-called "artificial intellegence"
which supercedes the digital filtering etc. as the newest technology.
Otocon "synchro" is a brand that we dispense. How well this works for a
particular patient is all trial and error. There is, however, some
financial protection. There's a federal law that provides for a 30-day
trial period with esentially a full refund if not improved.

The thing about the AI is that the aid "decides" in real time how much to
amplify or suppress. For instance, we had one patient attending Lyric Opera
who heard the music from the stage quite well, but heard a sound like ten
people clapping during the applause. If I had a choice between getting one
fancy aid or two basic, digital aids (for similarly involved ears), I would
choose the two to enlist the binaural hearing system.


After reading your Choralist message this morning, I wrote to a
highly respected colleague in Speech and Hearing here at Ohio
University, Ronald Isele. Ron sent the following response. (You'll
note that he refers to Ira Zook; Ira was a fine voice teacher/choir
director who passed away a few years ago.) I hope this information is
helpful to you.

(his reply)

Your colleague's problem is not unusual. Historically, hearing aids
have been problematic for individuals who put a high demand on
hearing, such as choral and instrumental faculty and directors. The
new generation of "digital" hearing aids is much more effective at
helping this problem than previous devices. That is not to say that
everyone with the problem can get total satisfaction from a hearing
aid. My best resource in this area was Ira Zook. He got a set of
digital hearing aids and was very pleased with how they allowed him
to hear all of the nuances of the choral groups' performances.

I would recommend that this individual go to an audiologist who is
experienced at fitting digital aids to see what can be done. They
have a tremendous variety of options that can be programmed into
them. They will not be cheap. Probably $2000-$2500 each, but if
they work well they would be well worth the money. The key to
improving the possibility of satisfaction is that the person must
keep going back to the audiologist to reprogram the aid until either
the desired results are obtained, limited results are obtained but
the person does do better, or the lack of a good result means the
person gives the hearing aids back and gets along as well as he can.
Anyone selling hearing aids should, by law, take the aids back within
30 days and refund the majority of the cost. There may be fees for
the fitting and making of the molds that are not refundable, but all
of the actual cost of the instrument should be.


I have had hearing aids for over 20 years and found they helped me very much
since my hearing loss was correctable. I tried just one aid in the weakest
ear but that was surely the worse experience I ever had. I went to two and
found the analog hearing aids to be way inferior to the digital. And, get a
volume dial. I have new ones now that do a little adjusting on their own but
I needed to go back several times to have them adjusted for optimum use in
the music situation. They ran $2,400 for the pair and are made of Siemen
parts. The piano is no longer louder than my choirs or students. I also
found out that there were some interesting things I could do with tonal
placement in my own voice that I had not been able to do before. Why? I do
not know, but the aids helped a great deal. More info, let me know


Your email was forwarded to me by someone who obviously knows my situation.
I am a professional singer with extensive hearing loss due to a condition
known as otosclerosis. It's a degenerative condition that causes the
earbones to stop moving. In my case, this conductive hearing loss is also
complicated by nerve loss. I'm sure you've been to see an ENT by now
(right?) who can determine what type of hearing loss you have and then help
you find solutions. I've had surgery on one ear, replacing the rigid bone
with a teflon substitute (restores hearing up to about a 20% loss, but also
degenerates over time) and I wear hearing aids that are my absolute lifeline
to being able to function socially and professionally.

I'll not bore you with all the endless details, but you should know that
hearing aids have come such a long way in their sophistication that you
shouldn't be afraid to try them out. Musicians are among the hardest people
to fit, and you HAVE to be patient. The best digital ones have to be
adjusted using a computer at (most likely) an audiologist's office, so you
may have to go several days or a week with some aspect of what you're
hearing driving you crazy, but then you go in and get it tweaked a little
bit more and after several adjustments, you have something that's pretty
darn acceptable. The process takes time and can be frustrating but DON'T
GIVE UP and shove them in a drawer. You really can not only get used to
them, but find you can't function without them. Of course, reproduced sound
is NEVER going to be the same as the real thing, but I am amazed at how good
it is; and the dismal alternativegiving up music altogethermakes me
grateful beyond measure for every note I hear.

Good hearing aids are also quite expensive and there is usually no health
insurance coverage, so prepare to take a hit in the bank accountroughly
$2,000 for each ear. Don't even consider trying to save money with a cheaper
modelyou have to have the best thing out there. It's also a good idea to
insure them (probably through homeowners), especially if you have a dog that
has a 6th sense about where you may have inadvertently left them. Amazing
how fast they can be reduced to shards. And you only have to wear them into
the shower once and you get to pay for them all over again.

So if you haven't done it yet, go find an ENT to diagnose your hearing loss
and make sure what you're dealing with is not anything really out of the
ordinary, and then take the plunge into the wonderful world of hearing aids.
It's not the end of the worldbut not being able to make music anymore
would be


I am no medical doctor, but have you had an MRI? One of the symptoms of
acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor that grows on the hearing nerve, is high
pitch distortion and hearing loss. Since conductors are such keen listeners,
they often hear the high pitch distortion first - and then notice the
hearing loss.

If I were you, I would want to rule out this possibility. Talk to your
doctor about acoustic neuroma. Get a CAT scan - but the tumor will only show
up if they use dye - it's the same with the MRI. There is a LOT of
information on the web about this condition.

Hearing loss for a conductor is not a pleasant prospect. I certainly wish
you the best.

For several years now I have been suffering from tinitus and, so my ENT
tells me, severe hearing loss, uneavenly across the range, but definitely at
the high end. The doc says she doesn't know how I can still conduct. Not
to go into gory details, but so far I've been able to conduct and train my
chorus without noticable loss of quality. While the level sensitivity is
definitely down, I still maintain a clear awareness of microintonation,
tambre, balance and the many other things one needs to work musically with a
group. Hi freqs are certainly not what they were. So far, the group hasn't
noticed, and the concerts have been pretty normal. I know when the group is
going down, their voices are distorting, blend is bad, diction suffers, all
those and more. Answering questions during rehearsals is getting difficult,
but I just ask them to speak up. So far it isn't generally known that I am
losing hearing, but that time will come. I haven't looked into hearing aids
yet, and I'm not sure I want to wear one in front of a chorus, but I know
the best ones are the most expensive, and the price is very steep.

Continue to conduct as long as you can. See a good ENT, one who understands
what it is you do, and weigh his advice into your own feelings about the job
you are doing. You seem to be aware of where your weaknesses are. Stay on
top and just try to to the job as you always have. Learn to compensate.

My mailbox is spam-free with ChoiceMail, the leader in personal and corporate anti-spam solutions. Download your free copy of ChoiceMail from
on August 13, 2007 10:00pm
Hi Dave:

Take a look at my website and/or contact Henry Price at Pepperdine University. I have developed a technology using a high-tech digital hearing aid to help singers control acoustics in any room. As a bi-product we have helped people, like Henry Price who lost part of his hearing at the peak of his career come back to singing again after many years of struggle. The little device is quite remarkable and can be formatted to your exact hearing needs. All we need is a hearing test to program a Bellacustica VMS System for you. Check out the website at and contact Henry Price at Pepperdine University. He is a voice professor there. You can look him up on the University's website.

Email me at if you have any questions or comments.
It really does work Dave.
on May 22, 2008 10:00pm

One of the things I want to address is the person who has one sided hearing loss and could not get a diagnosis. I am 56 and just last August had surgery after finally being diagnosed. As a mezzo soprano and pianist, teacher & director, this almost complete loss in the R ear together with finding out my 'good' ear also had a 30% loss really has affected my life.

The surgery was for a brain hernia. My brain completely grew into my mastoid and middle ear and filled up the space and also atached to the 2 small bones. There was a great deal of spinal fluid too. I guess the bone that separates the brain from the ear has alot of holes in it.
I also have dehicense of the superior canal in both ears BUT am not symptomatic thank goodness.

I am now able to hear my own voice (somewhat) when I sing while closing my good ear. But the progress has been slow. originally it was thought I would regain all hearing in my R ear.....but they did not replace the inner bones as they had planned. I am waiting to hear what will happen next AND am looking for hearing aids for singers and the correct people to help. My surgery was in Madison Wi with Dr. Pyle an expert in his field. I now reside in Redwood City Ca whic is close to San Francisco.

I wanted to alert the person who has trouble getting diagnosed that this can be rare and so easy to miss unless there has been head trauma.

Also if anyone has the name of an ENT neurosurgeon in the San Francisco area please let me know. And I really need help with suggestions for a hearing aid and someone who works with singers.!

Thank you

on November 10, 2008 10:00pm
The hearing loss began in the 2000 Hz range and increased exponentially up to the 4000 - 6000 Hz range. I tried some programable digital aids that worked well and aided in hearing the differences between 'f' & 'th' and 's' & 't.' However, they were too pricey. Maybe someday I'll have the cash to purchase them.