Gael Hannan on Church and Singing Christmas Songs
♪ Do You Hear What I Hear? ♪
Very soon, I’m going to be an angel. Before you reach for the sympathy cards, I can assure you I feel fine ; I’m not planning on leaving this earth any time soon.
On Christmas Eve, I’m doing my annual gig at my church: as the Christmas Angel, I narrate the nativity story at the early children’s service. It’s one of those simply magical events. The church is beautiful and dark with twinkling lights. Everyone’s excited. And as my Angel tells the story, the children come and join me at the appropriate time , dressed as little shepherds, donkeys, stars, wise men, angels and the occasional Lady Gaga.
Church has always been one of the most communication-accessible areas of my life with hearing loss – because I understand most of what’s being said and sung. I grew up listening to music lying on the floor, ear pressed against the stereo so I could ‘get the words’. That was the theory, anyway, because I still have my own lyrics to many songs. (They don’t make sense, but I make up for that with a terrific sense of rhythm.) It took many years and good hearing aids before I knew the proper words for some songs. Even now, if you were to watch me singing in a group sing-along, you’d see my lips moving in different directions than anyone else’s – it looks like really bad lip-synching, although I’m just singing it like I know it.
In answer to that beautiful Christmas song, Do You Hear What I Hear?, my answer is most likely probably not. Take Walking in a Winter Wonderland, for example. The first two lines go like this:
♪ Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening…♪
♪ Sleigh bells ring, are ya with me?
Don’t delay-y-y, your naughty whistling…♪
That’s the way I heard the words. Now, if this song had been in the Presbyterian hymnbook, I’d have got the words right from the get-go. Growing up in a church-going family, all the hymns were printed right there, in the hymnbook. Once I learned to read, I sang those songs the way they were written, with words that madesense (more or less.) Hymnbooks were trailblazers of print interpretation!
The church I went to as a child used an amplification system that, when the minister spoke in his already booming voice, almost blew the roof off. But, in my pre-hearing aid days, it sounded fine – if I was paying attention. I think that’s why my dad and mom (6’4 and 5’11” respectively) felt safe sitting near the back of the congregation. They didn’t want to block the view for people behind them and they figured their hard of hearing daughter wasn’t listening anyway.
In my teens and twenties, still a regular church-goer, my hearing worsened. I sat closer to the front, as did my parents who were aging and shrinking, posing less of a barrier to the smaller people behind them. Sitting at the front, I could speechread the minister and other speakers, but difficulty came with prayer time (you know, thelong ones). When I closed my eyes, as we were supposed to, I couldn’t understand anything between Dear God and Amen! I didn’t want to risk offending the Almighty by closing my eyes and drifting off to I-can’t-hear-you-la-la-land, so I scrunched my eyes shut and kept repeating to myself, “Ditto, Lord! Whatever he’s saying, that’s goes for me, too. Ditto-Amen.”
These days, I’m a bit smarter. My church is accessible with good acoustics, a superb sound system, and FM receivers that I hope somebody is using. I still sit in the second row for easy speechreading. But now, I keep my eyes open during the prayers – to watch the lips of the person reading the prayers. It’s always a shock for him or her to look around and catch me staring them down. I try not to smile because it throws them off, and then other people wake up, thinking prayers are over.
Read the rest of the story with Gael’s account of being asked to give the sermon at another church at http://bit.ly/1elCiIr.
Distributed 2013 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org; 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056 TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax. Items in this newsletter are provided for information purposes only; NVRC does not endorse products or services. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC. This news service is free of charge, but donations are greatly appreciated.