Home Up

Published: Tuesday, July 8, 2003 The Everett Herald, Everett, WA.

Hearing loss inspired singer to teach others

By Christina Harper
Herald Writer

When Everett resident Ruth King Goddard was a child, she thought that getting old meant that she'd either go blind or deaf. Her love of music ran so deep that she asked God not to take her hearing. She practiced being blind.

But, in 1972, one day after arriving home from college with a music teaching degree, Goddard noticed a blowing sound in one ear. The sound would change when she moved her head.

The accomplished soloist who had sung in Carnegie Hall and European cathedrals was diagnosed with Meniere's disease, a condition that can cause pressure in the ear, vertigo and hearing loss. Goddard, now 53, was told she would lose the hearing in one ear. Her whole life changed and so did her attitude.

"My middle name was music," Goddard, said. "My entire identity was wrapped up in music."

Learning of her impending hearing loss made Goddard realize that she was no longer the snobby prima donna she had described herself as being.

"I had judged people," Goddard said. "I'd say if they had hearing loss they couldn't be a good musician."

Goddard went back to school and was working as a youth minister when she encountered a group of pastors who couldn't carry a tune. She decided to see if she help them. She wanted to see if tone deafness really existed. She began tracking her own hearing loss.

Thirty years later Goddard is helping people find their singing voices and what she calls "tonal memories" by teaching workshops and classes to those who believe they are tone deaf. She has recently finished a book, "Singing for Nonsingers: You Can."

Goddard contends that how people feel about their voices begins in elementary school.

"I was taught that if a child, by the age of 6, couldn't carry a tune, they were tone deaf," Goddard said.

Goddard has come to the conclusion there is no such thing as tone deafness, that not singing on pitch has nothing to do with the ears but with the brain.

People do hear with their brains, said Fritz Goset, an audiologist and manager of the hearing aid center at Everett Clinic.

"All sounds we hear are comprised of multiple tones," Goset said.

The ear turns sounds into electrical pulses and the brain works it out. When people have their hearing checked they listening to tones.

In the Singing for Nonsingers workshops, Goddard leads groups in relaxation techniques and singing exercises in a bare room to mimic the experience of singing in the shower,

"When the acoustics are dead, all you hear is yourself," Goddard said. "You're very exposed."

The most common complaint that Goddard hears from nonsingers is that they can't sing on key, that they are "tone deaf."

During the workshop she attempts to teach people how to sing confidently on pitch by finding their musical ear. Goddard believes that the exercises allow nonsingers to tap into that part of the brain that deals with pitch in music.

Goddard says relaxation is key to singing and enjoying it. She teaches her singers how to use the lower part of the lungs because she believes in the importance of good breathing.

Students practice relaxation and breathing techniques. Other exercises include practicing intonation, such as expressively saying a word then breaking it up for emphasis. Students sing songs such as "Yakety Yak, Don't Talk Back," which goes from a high pitch at the beginning of the refrain to a low one at the end.

The relaxation techniques taught in a recent class really helped Erica Owa, 19, build confidence in her singing voice. Owa plays violin and piano but wanted to gain more self assurance in her vocals.

"I just thought because I was never taught any vocal techniques that it would be good opportunity to learn," Owa said.

Owa used the breathing and relaxation techniques after attending the workshop and now believes she can sing a little better as well as with a bit more flexibility. She's looking for a choir to join.

Although Owa said that it might help people if they know something about music before taking the workshop, it's not absolutely necessary.

"I think it's really easy for anyone," Owa said. "Almost anyone could get it."

Goddard lets students know that it's OK to miss some notes, that they are not performing, they are playing.

"We hear Simon on 'American Idol' saying that they (contestants) should never sing again," Goddard said. "But the voice needs training. They can sing perfectly well."

Reporter Christina Harper: 425-339-3491 or harper@heraldnet.com.