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Dear little cellist,

It seems to us that it is no easy business learning the cello. But can you imagine what it would be like to learn the cello if you were deaf? We spoke to two cellists with severe hearing loss who have done just that.

Jake Lamb is fifteen. He has been learning the cello with an organization called Music and the Deaf. Just as for any other young cellist, part of the fun is playing the cello with other children and making new friends. Jake is a member of The Deaf Youth Orchestra and also of Hi-Notes, a group made up of deaf musicians who compose and perform their own work.

Jake very kindly answered some questions for littlecellist.com:

In what sense can you hear what you are playing?
I can hear a bit with hearing aids but benefit more from feeling vibrations.

How can you tell whether you are playing in tune?
My teacher usually tells me if I'm out of tune but sometimes I can feel it myself because the vibration is different.

Is the cello a good instrument for a deaf musician?
Yes, it's really good because of the vibrations which I feel mainly in my bowing hand.

How about playing with other musicians?
We always look at the sheet music, watch the conductor and make eye-contact with one another to make sure that we play in time.

What do you like best about playing the cello?
It feels great. I performed at the Royal Albert Hall, over a year ago, which was one of the best days of my life!

Catriona Hetherington is an adult cellist who has won scholarships, international competitions and awards despite her hearing loss. She began to learn the cello at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and went on to study with the renowned cellist Robert Cohen. With hearing aids, Catriona can hear some sounds but as hearing aids only amplify residual hearing (that means, make the sounds you can hear louder), there are many sounds that Catriona can't hear at all. In fact, every aspect of her hearing is different from normal hearing. Can you imagine listening to a very bad recording with lots of interference (sounds you don't want to hear) and many of the sounds that you do want to hear not being there at all - and trying to pick up clues as to what you are hearing?

Catriona explained that every musician with a hearing loss experiences things totally differently, according to the type of hearing loss that they have and how they have focussed on overcoming the difficulties they encounter. So although the sensations in the fingertips of both her hands are very important to her when she's playing the cello, she has mainly focused on working hard to make sense of what she is hearing and to train her brain in this way. So although her hearing hasn't improved, she can now figure out some notes in a better way than she could before.

littlecellist.com is particularly grateful to Catriona for answering our questions because she is usually a very private person and tries to avoid publicity. We are sure you will agree that her story is a very inspiring one.