William Congreve once said, “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast.” Music also helps children grow and transition into well-rounded adults. In addition, it helps the mind and body work together, strengthens memory skills, builds self-confidence and increases self-discipline.
Music always permeated our household when I was growing up. Most nights, after a couple of Lucky Lager beers, my dad would play his guitar and sing “Ya vamos llegando a Penjamo” and other Mexican ballads, and my mother had the radio blaring all day long on the Spanish stations. We would listen to Lydia Mendoza singing traditional Mexican-American songs and Agustin Lara’s compositions sung by Pedro Infante, Perez Prado and others. In adolescence, we transitioned to rock on transistor radios and listened to the Temptations and Supremes and other Motown performers, as well as Elvis, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Hendrix, Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and a multitude of other bands. Once a week, Professor Alessio would come to the house to give us piano lessons, and we would pound the ivories the rest of the week practicing Hanon exercises, drop-roll technique and so on. The house was rarely silent.
In the late 1960’s, I contracted rubella during my second pregnancy. Frantically, I called my obstetrician.
“Doctor, what is the probability that this child will be born handicapped?”
“Since this is the first trimester of your pregnancy, it is highly likely that this child will have a congenital defect. I can refer you for a therapeutic abortion, but you can opt to go through with the pregnancy—it’s your decision.”
Seven months later, I gave birth to a little wrinkled munchkin, who appeared to be normal, except for an extreme case of colic. For the first three months of his life, I would sing him lullabies, feed him every 2 hours, and try every trick I knew to calm him; however, nothing worked as well as holding him in my arms and rocking him.
Finally, when he turned four months old, he started to sleep through the night, and I actually was able to snap out of being a zombie on automatic pilot. That is when I noticed that my little boy did not respond to my voice when he cried out from pain or hunger.
“Hey Mikey, I’m coming. Mommy’s coming.”
It was not until I came into his range of vision that he would stop crying and start smiling and hiccupping. At about the same time, I noticed that he wouldn’t be startled and start crying if someone dropped a pan, or turned on the vacuum cleaner or stepped on a squeaky toy. It suddenly dawned on me that my child could have congenital hearing loss. Subsequent testing only confirmed my suspicions. The little songs and nursery rhymes that had been so important to my first child’s learning process had to be approached from a totally different angle. Pictures, printed words, labelling everything in the house, gestures, pantomime, and sign language was of paramount importance in order to communicate. Although music was still important to the other family members, little Mikey was oblivious to the beauty of music. The extent of damage that the virus had inflicted was so severe that he was determined to be profoundly deaf and hearing aids barely made any difference. Nevertheless, Mike grew up, attended Gallaudet University and married a hard of hearing Japanese woman in 2000.
In 2002, my grandson Tomizo was born, with normal hearing, to Mike and Mizue. In the beginning, his mother would play nursery rhyme CDs and songs from the Wiggles for Tomizo, but, by the time he was in preschool, Tomizo’s music exposure was limited to whatever was on the school curriculum and visits to hearing family members’ households. Consequently, his interest in music seemed to go into hibernation and did not reappear until the end of middle school.
When he was in senior year, I asked him, “Hey, Tomizo, what’s your favorite song?”
Tomizo puzzled over the question for a minute.
“To play? Or to listen to?”
“To play, jackass! I’m still amazed that you didn’t even listen to music three years ago, and now you play lead trumpet for the high school band!”
Tomizo shrugged his left shoulder.
“Well Grandma, if you’ve got deaf parents and you’re really into video games, there’s really not that much exposure to music, except for sound effects.”
Tomizo looked me straight in the eye.
“You really don’t understand what it’s like to live in a deaf household. I mean, you know what it’s like to raise a deaf kid, but it’s a whole new world when you’re the only hearing person in that household. It’s not a silent house, like a library; it’s sometimes louder than you expect because volume control is not part of a deaf person’s vocabulary. My parents can clatter pans, vacuum carpets, and yell at each other, at any time of the day or night, without thinking about all the noise they are making. On the other hand, there are some benefits. For example, I can play “Overwatch” on my Acer laptop at 3 am, with the sound full blast, and my parents won’t even stop snoring for a second. I can yell their names until doomsday, and if they don’t see me, there will be no reaction. I take that back, my mom will hear me if she has her hearing aids on—she might not know what I said, but she will react. On the other hand, my dad won’t react—end of story. Just understand that I never even gave a thought to learning to play an instrument until freshman year, when the choice was P.E. or band, and I’d do anything to skip P.E.”
In freshman year, Tomizo took Instrumental Music Ensemble and chose to play trumpet. At first, even his mother would grimace when he was practicing—if she was wearing her hearing aids. Surprisingly, in sophomore year, he decided to continue with Intermediate Band, and, in junior year, he auditioned for Jazz Band, and was accepted. He was told by his instructors that additional time, effort, and discipline would be required; however, his mind was made up. Currently, when he plays his tooter, people will stop to listen and applaud his performance.
When Tomizo informed me that he was going to be in Jazz Band, as well as Concert Band, I told him that he was out of his mind because of the practice, dedication and time that would require. He insisted that he could do it. It would require balancing his priorities, but he really was invested in maintaining his grade point average as well as doing something he truly enjoyed. To my amazement, not only did his playing improve, his academic grades did not suffer.
Love for his music has provided Tomizo with an outlet for the frustrations of adolescence, disciplined him to succeed where he would have perceived his current achievements to be unattainable, empowered him to use his imagination and creativity to improvise in his trumpet playing, and given him a boost in self-confidence and self-esteem with his accomplishments. This summer he took some lessons from a Grammy-award trumpeter and learned a few tips on how to play better. He absorbed enough to have his teacher ask him to “tone it down a bit.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Juanita Callejas has explored a variety of destinations as a universal traveler in both mind and body to get to her current “port” of creative writer. Her passport has been stamped as a Mexican-Nicaraguan first-generation native-born San Franciscan. She is a mother of three, an amazing visual artist, an alumna of San Francisco State University (BA in Spanish; BS in International Business and Accounting) and University of California, Berkeley (MBA), Finance and HR professional (banking, shipping and apparel industries), and a grandmother of one amazing grandson. She continues to add pages to her passport for trips to all continents and more visual art and creative writing projects!