The sound of music

When the middle school symphony concertmaster takes a bow, there will be a round of applause, shouts of support and the quiet murmur of students and families. But Ben-Han Sung ’11 won’t be able to hear anything more than muffled noise from what sounds like a distant crowd.
A new student this year, Sung was diagnosed at age 3 with moderate to severe bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a genetic defect that occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the nerves from the inner ear that connect to the brain.

Sung has trouble hearing anything three to five feet away; however, with hearing aids, he can hear 80 to 90 percent of conversation in clinically soundproof environments.

Sung began taking lessons for both the violin and the piano at age 4. As long as he can hear the sound of the notes, Sung says he can tell whether or not he’s playing correctly.

“My music teacher found out I have perfect pitch,” Sung said. “I can recognize the sound of each note.”
Conductor of the middle school symphony Emily Reola described Sung as “extremely alert and aware” in rehearsal at all times.

“He very rarely misses a beat in class, literally,” Reola said. “It amazes me that anyone with a hearing impairment can always play perfectly in tune.”

By relying on hearing aids, Sung has been able to study with normal hearing children since pre-school. At his previous schools, teachers occasionally used a microphone that worked with a FM receiver attached to his hearing aids. The microphone isn’t used at the middle school because the small class sizes render it unnecessary.

 “My teachers allow me to sit in the front or move around in the classroom closer to the speaker,” Sung said. “They patiently repeat whatever I miss.”

 “At the beginning of the school year, I tried to pay special attention to him to see if he would need special attention with anything,” Reola said. “Now it hardly ever crosses my mind that he even has a hearing impairment.”

Outside of school, Sung says it can be hard when people who are unaware of his hearing condition assume he can hear everything, making it necessary to continually ask for repetition.
However, Sung says that his hearing loss doesn’t prevent him from enjoying school, and it doesn’t hurt his music. 

“Playing is a great way for me to channel my emotions and communicate them to other people,” Sung said. “Music has been a natural part of my life. I hear it everywhere I go.”