Top 5 lists are fun. But not all top 5 lists are created equal. Austin Chapman’s list of his top five favorite pieces of music (as of his August 7, 2012 blog post) is kind of special. It’s special because Chapman was born profoundly deaf, and up until a few days before that post, “all music sounded like trash.” Then he upgraded to a new hearing aid, and, well, just read it: Being able to hear music for the first time ever.
I sat in the doctor’s office frozen as a cacophony of sounds attacked me. The whir of the computer, the hum of the AC, the clacking of the keyboard, and when my best friend walked in I couldn’t believe that he had a slight rasp to his voice. He joked that it was time to cut back on the cigarettes.
That night, a group of close friends jump-started my musical education by playing Mozart, Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Elvis, and several other popular legends of music.
Being able to hear the music for the first time ever was unreal.
I realized that my old hearing aids were giving me a distorted version of music. they were not capable of distributing higher frequencies with clarity, instead it was just garbled gibberish.
When Mozart’s Lacrimosa came on, I was blown away by the beauty of it. At one point of the song, it sounded like angels singing and I suddenly realized that this was the first time I was able to appreciate music. Tears rolled down my face and I tried to hide it. But when I looked over I saw that there wasn’t a dry eye in the car.
I finally understood the power of music.
Naturally, as a fan, I was interested in which Sigur Rós song his friends turned him onto, and what he thought of it. Fortunately, it made it into his top 5, so I know: “3. Sig Ros’s Staralfur… The first song I had to listen to again, over and over.”
Here’s a YouTube video with the studio recording Chapman listened to:
For bonus fun, here’s a live performance from Heima:
Chapman went on to ask for suggestions on reddit, and is now following the most upvoted advice by going back and listening chronologically to great music from the past, so he can appreciate the development of music over time.
Rebecca Rosen was intrigued by Chapman’s story, and wrote a piece in The Atlantic about him: What It’s Like for a Deaf Person to Hear Music for the First Time. It included this detail that made me happy:
In general, his preferences tends toward what he terms as “melodic or soothing.” In particular, the Icelandic band Sigur Rós has become his favorite. “Every song [of theirs] haunts me and I’m not even 20 percent done listening to everything by them.”