MUSICIANS from all over the world, including the Philippines, recently converged for the “Beats of Cochlea” festival, where they showcased their talents, shared their love for music and received mentoring from world-class peers and professionals.
What made the music festival extra special is the fact that it was especially created for people with hearing loss to fulfill their musical dreams.
The performers represented a wide range of age groups, backgrounds and playing experiences, but all of them had one thing in common: They all use a hearing-implant in order to hear, appreciate music and experience the sense of sound as a normal hearing person should.
Sponsored by MED-EL Medical Electronics, a leading hearing-implant provider, the third International Music Festival for Children, Youths and Adults with Hearing Disorders took place at the World Hearing Centre in Kajetany, Poland, which was conceptualized by Polish surgeon Professor Henryk Skarżyński. He was the first surgeon in Poland to perform cochlear implantation surgery on a hearing-impaired patient in 1992.
Following the success of the inaugural festival in 2015, this one-of-a-kind international music festival continues to demonstrate that, with today’s achievements in modern science and medicine, even those with severe hearing loss can live out their passion for music. Including those from the Philippines, participants—aged 6 years old through to 39—came from the UK, Poland, China, Greece, Taiwan, Ukraine, Portugal, Singapore and Austria.
All of them sing, compose and play one or multiple instruments, such as the violin, guitar, piano, flute, drums and guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument.
Some were inclined to jazz, while others have a passion for classical, with the rest seeking rock-star status or pop fame. Although having unique hearing-loss journeys, a shared passion for music brought these people together from around the world.
This year the festival adopted a new and improved format, which included vocal and instrumental master classes with professional musicians from around the world.
Within the four-day meet, the musicians shared their experiences with festival attendees. The event concluded with a gala concert where participants performed the musical pieces they developed during the master classes.
Tackling hearing loss
ACCORDING to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 5 percent of the world’s population—or about 360 million people—are living with disabling hearing loss. This number includes 328 million adults and 32 million children.
Approximately one-third of people over the age of 65 are affected by disabling hearing loss. The WHO recommends a range of interventions to improve communication once hearing loss has occurred, which include hearing implants.
Austria-based MED-EL is a leading provider of hearing-implant systems, with 31 offices globally. The Asia Pacific headquarters is located in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, making the Philippines the country with the most number of successful implants in the world, which is now more than 500. MED-EL Philippines is celebrating its 20th year in Asia Pacific this year.
Johanna Pätzold, MED-EL’s in house musicologist, said, “Beats of Cochlea helps people of all ages achieve their musical dreams that may otherwise not be possible. The unique format of the event enables attendees to learn from the experts and share the gift of music with others going through a similar experience. As a leading provider of hearing-implant solutions, we are delighted to support an event that celebrates music and enriches the lives of people living with hearing loss.”
HEARING-implant recipients who qualified to the festival included Filipina Maria Sharlene Morta, 17, who sang an original composition with her own guitar accompaniment. Others were: 39-year-old Eva Costa from Portugal, who played the flute; Kazakhstan-native Chingiz Agibaev, aged 6, who performed a vocal piece; and Charlie Denton, 10, from Gloucestershire, UK, who is a master with the violin and piano.
Morta is currently Grade 11 at San Beda College Alabang (SBCA). In an e-mail interview, the teenager said she loves to play different musical instruments, such as the piano, guitar, violin and ukulele.
“I also love songwriting, which leads me to appreciate music more. And I used to dance ballet, contemporary, hip-hop and jazz.”
According to her mom Shalini, the prodigy passed Grade-7 piano and Grade-5 theory examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) of London in December 2016 and 2014, respectively. With these, she is qualified to teach primary levels of ABRSM students. The young Morta also passed with merit the Grade-2 guitar in ABRSM. Likewise, she also received a merit from the Royal Academy of Dance, London, for Level 3-certificate in Vocational Graded examination in Dance: Intermediate (Ballet) in April 2015 and Grade-3 distinction in 2010.
It was such a big feat for Morta, who received her cochlear implant in August 2004 when she was barely 5 years old. The MED-EL Pulsar cochlear implant was implanted on her left ear, and she was using a hearing aid on her right ear, making the young girl’s hearing age barely 12 years old.
Despite the challenges, the young Pinay was enrolled with regular students in a normal hearing environment that requires her to listen attentively to the teachers and adjust her lip-reading skills to comprehend and understand the lessons. She discovered the sound of the piano in 2005 when she visited her grandmother, Thelma Buencamino Magno, who became her first piano teacher.
Between Grades 3 to 8, Morta started doing extracurricular activities, such as ballet and playing musical instruments after school. She has been performing for the Cultural Center of the Philippines in their annual ballet recital since 2006 in her ballet school. She was requested to perform a ballet solo number in the “For the Love of” in 2012, a fund-raising activity for SBCA scholars.
On October 24, 2016, she was invited to be the only hearing-impaired speaker/panel member to share her experiences with doctors, audiologists, speech therapists, teachers, and families in the Seventh Conference of the Coalition for Global Hearing Health, its first time in Asia, in collaboration with University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.
When Morta saw the MED-EL Facebook page inviting children with musical talent, she posted her song there and a piano piece, “Thousand Years”. She was then chosen to be one of the representatives in the Beats of Cochlea.
The teenager said she is blessed to learn from musical artists through the mentorship training, as this could help her launch a composer-artist career. She would love to become an artist who can inspire the world through her performances and work.
“My ultimate goal would be to be able to inspire people by encouraging them to aim high and reach their dreams, whether they have a hearing loss or not. And I really hope that I can write more songs and collaborate with amazing singers such as Adele, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and other world-class artists,” she declared.