Keep Austin Hearing

Moody College partners with Health Alliance for Austin Musicians to promote hearing health

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What is more important to a musician than the ability to hear?

Hearing health is vital to every aspect of composing and performing music. Thanks to free hearing screenings at the UT Speech and Hearing Clinic, Austin musicians have access to services to ensure they can keep hearing—and playing—music.

The program offers hearing screenings and earplugs to local musicians—providing a key service to the individuals who make Austin “The Live Music Capital of the World.”

Offered four times a year at the UT Speech and Hearing Clinic, the program is a collaboration between the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), and Soriya Estes (M.A. ’99) and Kelli House (B.S. ’96, M.A. '99), owners of Estes Audiology Hearing Centers.

Each year, clinic staff members, graduate students and volunteers provide 320 diagnostic screenings and customized earplugs to musicians who are HAAM members—working musicians who otherwise couldn’t afford these services.

Customized earplugs normally cost more than $200, but participating musicians pay $25 as co-pay for both earplugs and screenings. Donors who support HAAM’s program services make the earplugs possible, and the screenings are conducted for free by clinic staff members and graduate students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and professional audiologists from Estes Audiology.

The idea for the screenings and earplugs came to Estes in 2005, when she first heard about HAAM on a KUT broadcast. HAAM provides a wide range of healthcare services to local musicians. However, Estes noticed there was something missing.

“I heard about HAAM services in general care, dental, vision and mental health but nothing on hearing,” said Estes. “After contacting them, they had just finished a survey finding that 72 percent of members wanted to see hearing health offered more than anything else—so it came together perfectly.”

Community outreach projects are part of the mission of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and the screenings held on Feb. 20 were expected to provide treatment for 83 clients.

“If our musicians can’t hear, they can’t play,” said Reenie Collins, executive director of HAAM. “There is so much coordination that goes back and forth between band members in addition to the range, pitch and tone of the music they play.”

Demand has been so high that organizers have had to create a wait list because the funding and resources can’t accommodate all those who wish to participate.

The screenings and fittings consist of a four-step process: cleaning the ears, screening musicians in specialized sound-treated booths, counseling test results to patients, and creating molds of the ear canal with silicon. The silicon impressions are sent off to Westone Laboratories, Inc. in Colorado Springs, Col. Custom-fit, personalized earplugs arrive from Colorado to HAAM offices about four weeks later. 

“Wearing them is like turning down the volume on the whole mix,” said Noah Mosgofian, a professional percussionist with more than 20 years experience. “I play every day and I never play without these because the abuse—especially with drummers—can really increase over time.”

Other clients such as Aaron Hatmaker, a bassist for several bands including the Dave Scher Trio and DaHeBeGeBees, also showed great appreciation for the services.

“This is a high-end hearing service that really makes a difference for musicians,” said Hatmaker. “It keeps us safe.”

The next clinic is scheduled for April 28, 2015 on the second floor of the CMA building on campus. 

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer