Photo assignment: Richard Reed, musician

1 09 2010

I recently returned from a photography assignment in Providence, Rhode Island. I was contracted by Cochlear Americas to photograph Richard Reed, a full-time musician who wears a cochlear implant and is the developer of HOPE Notes, a cochlear implant music appreciation program.

HOPE Notes (from the Cochlear Americas website)
“HOPE Notes is the first of its kind—a program uniquely developed for cochlear implant and hearing aid users designed to help improve music perception and appreciation using original songs, traditional Folk, Blues & Country styles and some familiar tunes played in unexpected ways. HOPE Notes includes a CD, DVD, and a detailed User Guide including lyrics designed to assist and enrich your use of the program. The DVD incorporates both visual and audio cues while the CD (designed for use on the go) focuses solely on the audio component of the program.”

To learn more about HOPE Notes or to order, contact Cochlear at 1-(800)-523-5798 or check out their website here.

A Life Without Sound
A late-deafened adult, Richard lost his hearing due to an ototoxic antiobiotic he was given to treat peritonitis in the early 1990s, when he was in his mid-30s. His hearing loss progressed from mild to profound over the next two years. Read more about his hearing loss in Rick Massimo‘s insightful article in The Providence Journal here. Carolyn Smaka from AudiologyOnline interviewed Richard in July. It’s an excellent introduction to Reed’s hearing loss as well as the development of HOPE Notes. Check out her interview here.

When I asked Richard what it was like as a full-time musician to not be able to continue in the field, he told me about playing one night after his hearing loss. “While deaf and using useless powerful digital hearing aids, I used to sit in with my brother Tom in various Blues bands or with old friends. I could feel the bass and drums—thought I could hear myself a little. One night in Newport, it became painfully obvious just how little music I could actually hear. During a piano solo, a cord to my amplifier came loose, but I kept right on playing—with no sound coming out!”

After he retired from performing, he worked in his sister Roberta‘s antique store “refinishing and painting warped and wild folk art furniture, which was therapeutic but unfulfilling.” He wore hearing aids during this time, but didn’t pursue the cochlear implant until 2002. Richard wrote, What It Feels Like…to Regain Your Hearing, in a 2007 issue of Esquire magazine here.

Return to Music
After receiving his Nucleus 24 Contour CI in 2002, Richard noticed a significant improvement in his ability to hear and understand speech, but found listening to music frustrating. With patience, practice and the help of his aural therapist, music became a source of joy again. Not long after his CI was activated, he stayed away from playing the piano because to him it sounded out of tune. He had to go back to the basics with scales and eventually made enough progress to start playing with bands again. Learn more about his journey back to the hearing world in the article, Hero Spotlight: Richard Reed, available on Cochlear Americas website here. In that article, he says, “As ironic as it was for a musician to go deaf, I realized, too, how many friends’ conversations revolved around music—what’s new, who’s good, who’s playing where. Losing music was horrible, but the loss of everyday conversation was worse.”

At Long Last—I’m a Band Groupie!
On my assignment for Cochlear Americas a few weekends ago, I was honored and excited to photograph Richard and a few of his fellow musicians at The Music Complex in Pawtucket, R.I.

His brother, Tom Reed, plays bass. At just 13, Tom taught Richard, then 12, his first songs on the organ. Tom plays freelance—backing up various bands from week to week—and teaches private lessons. He plays electric bass in R&B bands, and upright bass for Blues, Jazz and Rockabilly. He recorded some bass parts for Richard’s HOPE Notes project. (Photo, left to right: Mark Cutler, Jack Moore, Tom Reed and Richard Reed)

Drummer Jack Moore, a high school teacher by day, has played with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Roomful of Blues and many others. He currently plays with Robert Graves Leonard’s Slippery Sneakers, a Rhode Island-based Zydeco band.

Acclaimed guitarist and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Mark Cutler‘s latest CD is Red. He has been the lead singer and songwriter for such renown rock bands as The Schemers, The Raindogs, and The Dino Club, and has toured with Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan and many others. The Providence Phoenix recently profiled Mark here. Cutler works in the software business during the week and reserves his very busy weekends for gigs with various ensembles. You’ll find Mark Cutler videos on youtube here. Richard has played many gigs as one of Mark’s sidemen—before going deaf and again post-CI.

Today, Richard plays two to three times a week in New England nightclubs, concerts and recording sessions. When not performing, he travels the world to lecture about his hearing loss experience and “CI music.” He recently returned from Europe, and played squeezebox on two-time Grammy award-winning children’s singer/songwriter Bill Harley‘s newest CD, tentatively titled Songs We Sing. Future travel plans include CI Music Workshops in Salt Lake City in November, Toronto and Orlando in February, then back to the UK in March. Richard is playing with Mark Cutler in a reunion of their old band, The Schemers, in Newport at an autumn festival next month. He says, “this time I’ll hear my piano parts!” When I asked him what inspired him to create HOPE Notes, he said, “it was a way to give CI users simple exercises to learn or relearn some basic songs and tonalities.” He has already starting writing songs for Volume II.

Upcoming Feature in Hearing Loss Magazine
Reed has written an article about his hearing loss and the development of HOPE Notes that will be published in the upcoming November/December 2010 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, which I design and produce bimonthly for the Hearing Loss Association of America. Donna Sorkin, Vice President of Consumer Affairs for Cochlear Americas, will contribute sidebars about strategies to appreciate music and another titled, “What the Research Says…and Why it Doesn’t Matter.” Some of the images from my photo session will appear in her feature article. Cochlear Americas manufactures Nucleus cochlear implants and the Baha programmable bone conduction system. My otolaryngologist, Dr. John Niparko of Johns Hopkins Medical Center, says that I am a candidate for the Baha system.

Behind-the-Scenes Photo Notes
For the jam session photos, I used the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS)—with three Nikon Speedlights (with color-correcting gels)—an SB-900 fitted with an Alzo Mini Softbox as my main light, an SB-800 on the Nikon D300 as the trigger and an SB-600 on the side with a snoot. For the portraits with the beige background (shot in Richard’s home), I used my Nikon SB-800 Speedlight fitted with a Ray Flash, which replicates the lighting effect produced by more expensive studio ring flash units. It produces a shadowless light on your subject and a soft even shadow around the edges. I was very happy with the results of the ring flash in this session. If you’d like to try this type of lighting, check out the Coco Ring Flash Adapter—at just $49.95 on Amazon, it’s well below the $199 I paid for my Ray Flash a few years ago. (Hmmm….which product came first?—The Coco Ring Flash is an almost exact replicate—but I do agree with many of the online reviewers that, for a non-electronic, purely plastic gadget, the Ray Flash is still overpriced at $199. Having said that, I did buy it and am happy with it. When it first came out, it was listed for $299.99. It’s plastic people, plastic—no electronic parts, no cords, nothing—as one reviewer commented, “they were probably shamed into dropping the price.”). At any rate, whether you splurge on the Ray Flash or spring for the “poor man’s” version (which I was unaware of at the time of my purchase)—the Coco Ring Flash—it’s a really fun gadget to add to your photographic arsenal.

Want to learn more about the Nikon Creative Lighting System? Check out the Nikon School Hands-on Guide to Creative Lighting DVD, featuring photographers Bob Krist and Joe McNally. Joe McNally’s book, The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes, is an excellent resource as well. A lighting workshop with this master is definitely on my to-do checklist! Check out McNally’s excellent blog here and Bob Krist’s elegant website here. And for really comprehensive information on lighting, bookmark David Hobby’s blog, Strobist.

Whew! And finally, special thanks to my photo mentor, Brian Loflin, for his tips, troubleshooting and advice…and to Michael Schwehr for his service as my most excellent photo assistant.

All photos are by Cindy Dyer © 2010 Cochlear, Ltd.







Awards acceptance speech, October ’08

28 11 2009

Today I’ve been in spring cleaning mode (yet again). I’ve also been cleaning up my computer desktop and triple-backing up important files. I just came across this acceptance speech I wrote last year. In August 2008, Barbara Kelley, editor of Hearing Loss Magazine, began interviewing me for what she said was an article that would highlight professionals with hearing loss. I had no idea she was actually filling out a nomination form for a contest!

In early October 2008, just a few weeks before the awards event, I received notice that I was the winner in the Adult Category in Oticon’s annual “Focus on People” awards event! Oticon paid for flights for both me and Michael and provided beautiful accommodations at The Inverness Hotel and Conference Center in Englewood, Colorado, just outside of Denver. Winners received $1,000 each, plus $1,000 to be dedicated to the charity of their choice. Pretty exciting! You can read more about the big event in my posting here. Below is the speech that I delivered at the ceremony.

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MY HEARING LOSS
Not only do I design, produce, and photograph for the Hearing Loss Magazine—I, too, have a hearing loss. I lost my hearing suddenly at age two, and with medical intervention, most of it was restored. To this day, we’re unsure of what happened. When I was seven, I got my first hearing aid. It was clunky and I disliked being different from my classmates, so I refused to wear it. In 1993 I lost all the hearing very suddenly in my right ear, and exploratory surgery revealed that scar tissue had caused the eardrum to collapse. The exploratory surgery did not restore my hearing, so I decided to try an aid again, some 30 years after my first hearing aid experience.

HEARING AGAIN!
That experience was, so to speak, ear-opening! I hadn’t realized the world was so incredibly loud. My new life with a hearing aid had its funny moments. Walking up the stairs in our townhouse, with Michael right behind me, I stopped suddenly and asked him, “Do you hear that noise? What is it?” In the most loving way possible, he said, “Hon, those are your knees popping.” I was mortified! He laments my new acute hearing because he can no longer collect the loose change I drop, unheard, to the floor.

In the beginning, the TV volume was set so low when I controlled the remote that Michael couldn’t hear! I could hear soft noises such as my cat’s purr and water running in the sink and birds chirping through closed windows. There are many events I wish I could relive with a hearing aid now that I know what I have missed.

FACIAL PARALYSIS
Five years ago, my life was upended. During a routine checkup, a new ENT discovered a cholesteatoma in my deaf ear. I hadn’t had any symptoms, so I had no idea how long it had been there. In my routine quest for knowledge, I did some online research, and learned that 1% of patients experience facial paralysis during this type of surgery. I wasn’t concerned. One percent is pretty low odds. I had surgery two weeks later. Unfortunately, I was one of those 1% patients. The entire right side of my face was paralyzed. I was so devastated. I couldn’t smile and my right eye wouldn’t fully close. Because of my surgeon’s aftercare regarding the paralysis, I consulted with Dr. John Niparko at Johns Hopkins just five weeks later. After alarming nerve testing results, I was scheduled for surgery the next afternoon to determine if the nerve had been cut. Fortunately, it had not been cut, but there was some repair work done. I am perennially grateful to Dr. Niparko for his skilled hands, concern, warmth, and kindness. Here I stand, five years later, more than halfway down the road to healing with a renewed sense of hope.

HEARING LOSS MAGAZINE
About three years ago, a client forwarded a job opportunity to me. Without telling me who the client was, she wrote, “this job is perfect for you in so many ways. You should go for it.”

Barbara Kelley, editor of the Hearing Loss Magazine, was looking for a replacement designer. In the end, I believe the scales tipped in my favor partly because of my personal experience with hearing loss. She felt I would bring more than just design skills to the job. My hearing loss actually became an asset in my professional life. Imagine that!

As a result, I’ve met so many interesting people who thrive despite their hearing loss. I’ve photographed a ballerina in The Nutcracker, an incoming Gallaudet University president, a local county singer, and last month I was at Redskins Park photographing football player Reed Doughty, who just revealed his hearing loss this summer.

I’ve also met many HLAA members, such as our May/June cover girl, Abbie Cranmer, through our respective blogs. And there have been so many unexpected perks from the job as well. Barbara introduced me to HLAA member Mike Royer and his family, who appeared on our Walk4Hearing cover this spring. I had the privilege of photographing the birth of Mike and Alicia’s third child, Ashley Jocelyn, just last month. And recently I was offered the opportunity to photograph HLAA member Wayne Roorda’s cochlear implant surgery in November.

This magazine has morphed into more than I could have imagined. I have been challenged creatively and technically. And I have discovered I have a passionate desire to change, through my design and photography, the sometimes negative perception of people with hearing loss.

I have never let my hearing loss define me. It is part of my makeup but it is just a tiny part of who I am. And if I can inspire someone else with hearing loss to overcome their self-esteem issues and find their place in the world, then that’s just another reward from this amazing job.

THANK YOU
Thank you to Barbara Kelley and Brenda Battat for letting me run wild with my creativity and opening doors to a community of wonderful people who just happen to have hearing loss. I offer profound thanks to Barbara for her glowing nomination. And thank you to both Sara Coulter and Oticon, for your generosity, your hospitality, and for honoring me with this award.

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Oticon’s Focus on People 2008 first place winners with Peer Lauritsen, President of Oticon (fourth from left): Todd Landsberg, AuD of Eugene Speech and Hearing Center in Eugene, OR (Practitioner Category); Doug Wernke, M Ed of the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Rapid City, SD (Pediatric Practitioner Category); Cindy Dyer of Alexandria, VA (Adult Category); Peer Lauritsen; Lynn Rousseau of Gainesville, FL (Advocacy Category); and Mariella Paulino of the Bronx, NY (Student Category)