Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.
In the seven-minute virtual reality video “Sensations of Sound: On Deafness and Music,” Rachel Kolb describes what music felt like for her before and after she received cochlear implants that gave her partial hearing. She discovers that, “Music is not just about sound. Music is also about the body. About what happens when what we call sound escapes its vacuum and creates ripples in the world.”
After being asked, “Can you hear the music?” throughout her life, she says, “I now think a better question might be, ‘What does music feel like to you?’”
How would you answer Ms. Kolb’s question?
1. Watch the short film above. While you watch, you might take notes using our Film Club Double-Entry Journal (PDF) to help you remember specific moments.
2. After watching, think about these questions:
What questions do you still have?
What connections can you make between this film and your own life or experience? Why? Does this film remind you of anything else you’ve read or seen? If so, how and why?
3. An additional challenge | Respond to the essential question at the top of this post: “What does music feel like to you?”
4. Next, join the conversation by clicking on the comment button and posting in the box that opens on the right. (Students 13 and older are invited to comment, although teachers of younger students are welcome to post what their students have to say.)
5. After you have posted, try reading back to see what others have said, then respond to someone else by posting another comment. Use the “Reply” button or the @ symbol to address that student directly.
6. To learn more, read “Sensations of Sound: On Deafness and Music.” Rachel Kolb writes:
When I got a cochlear implant seven years ago, after being profoundly deaf for my entire life, hearing friends and acquaintances started asking me the same few questions: Had I heard music yet? Did I like it? What did it sound like?
I was 20 years old then. Aside from the amplified noises I’d heard through my hearing aids, which sounded more like murmurs distorted by thick insulation swaddling, I had never heard music, not really. But that did not mean I wasn’t in some way musical. I played piano and guitar as a child, and I remember enjoying the feel of my hands picking out the piano keys in rhythm, as well as the rich vibrations of the guitar soundboard against my chest. I would tap out a beat to many other daily tasks, too.
For several years, I became privately obsessed with marching in rhythm when walking around the block, counting out my steps like a metronome: One, two. One, two. Watching visual rhythms, from the flow of water to clapping hands and the rich expression of sign language, fascinated me. But in the hearing world, those experiences often didn’t count as music. And I gathered that my inability to hear music, at least in the view the people I knew, seemed unthinkable.