Most people have heard of Ludwig van Beethoven, whether they like his music or not. Most people also know that Beethoven was a deaf musician. I think many people think he was born deaf, but that makes no sense. If he had been born deaf, why would he have ever been interested in music? You really don’t desire to play music that you cannot hear. I don’t think that the mind of a child born deaf would simply have no concept of sound…much less music. Of course, these days, more can be done restore hearing than in Beethoven’s time, but even now, I don’t know if hearing could be restored to someone who was completely deaf from birth.
As a young man, with normal hearing, Beethoven became interested in music, and proved to be a musical genius. His hearing began to go in his 20s, and I have no doubt that it was a devastating event for him. Imagine being a man with a love of music, suddenly realizing that there will come a day when he can no longer hear the music he loves. Beethoven began to try to figure out a way to continue to have the music he loved, and he came up with a way to play the piano and “hear” the way his music sounded…vibrations. Vibrations, you say!! Yes!! Beethoven began to experiment on what vibrations occurred when each note was placed. I find that amazing. To be able to distinguish between the vibration B-flat makes as opposed to F-sharp. Any musician can easily tell you which note is which, but could they explain the vibration each one makes. I seriously doubt it.
Beethoven not only learned to distinguish the vibrations for each note, but he could quickly put them together in an order that made music that was truly beautiful. No sour notes in his music. No, his music was perfection, but exactly how did he do it. Well, he replicated “hearing” using vibrations by attaching a small rod to the piano and biting down on it while he played. Because our eardrums vibrate from sound, the vibration on Beethoven’s jaw imitated hearing while he was hearing impaired. Totally amazing!! This experiment was the start to the official alternate hearing method called bone conduction. And now you know where some of our greatest innovations in hearing came from.
As a young girl, I read a book about Helen Keller. I became very interested in her life. She was truly inspirational to me. It wasn’t really about the fact that she was deaf, blind, and mute, but rather about how she overcame all of those obstacles to become a really great woman in history. Of course, the truth is that without another girl who was losing her own sight, Helen Keller might well have gone on with her life in the almost barbaric way she was being allowed to grow up. Helen’s family had no idea how to raise her. In fact, they had no idea what to do with her at all. She was completely out of control. She threw tantrums when she didn’t get her way. She ate off of everyone’s plates…completely destroying the meal that was on there until she found what she wanted, and then moving on to the next plate. I’m sure that there was never a peaceful meal in that house, much less a peaceful day. Every time Helen didn’t like how things were going, the screaming began, and the family cringed.
It all started when she was a little baby. She had a very bad fever. They weren’t sure Helen would survive. Nevertheless, she did, but the damage was done. Before long they realized that she couldn’t hear, or see, and the few words she had learned soon left her, because she was locked inside herself. She was living in quiet darkness. The only things she knew were the smells of her family, food cooking, and her way around the house. Her parents felt sorry for her, so they gave her what she wanted. Soon all it took to make them give in, was a tantrum, but Helen was getting older, and she was out of control. In fact, when her younger sister was born, she dumped her out of a cradle that she wanted to use for her doll. Her parents decided that something had to be done, or she would have to be placed in a home for the mentally insane.
In a last ditch effort, they hired Annie Sullivan, who was a teacher and losing her sight too. She could teach, and she was stubborn. Both were things Helen needed desperately. It was no easy task, but really by trial and error, Annie developed a way to get things across to the girl. She used finger spelling into Helens hand. But she couldn’t talk to her, so she had to keep doing the same things until it finally clicked. On that amazing day, Helen’s real education could begin. It had been a long struggle, including fighting Helen’s family, but Annie won, and that meant Helen won. She went on to be a successful author and later a speaker. Helen learned the sounds by feeling Annie’s throat. She was truly an amazing woman. Today is the 136th anniversary of Helen Keller’s birth. She passed away on June 1, 1968.