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Deaf filmmaker truly hears music for the first time

By Natalie Brunell, CNN
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Tue October 2, 2012
Until this summer, Austin Chapman was unable to hear music clearly.
Until this summer, Austin Chapman was unable to hear music clearly.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Deaf filmmaker Austin Chapman, 23, buys hearing aid before losing his parents' insurance
  • He weeps when he hears the full range of music for the first time
  • The first song he enjoys in its entirety is Mozart's "Lacrimosa"
  • 14,000 posts on Reddit recommend all sorts of music

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Growing up, Austin Chapman was mystified by people's reaction to music.

He would poke fun at those around him who abandoned their composure to sing their favorite song or twirl around a dance floor. When someone wept at the tune of a ballad, he was bewildered. To him, music sounded "like trash."

Until this summer, Chapman, a 23-year-old filmmaker, was able to hear only a distorted version of music in the form of bass and mid-tones through his old hearing aids.

When he was just 9 months old, his parents learned that he was born "profoundly deaf," and he was immediately fitted with his first listening device.

It helped, but he was unable to hear anything clearly. Until now.

It was nearly midnight July 6 when he was able to hear his first song in its entirety: Mozart's "Lacrimosa."

Fitted with a new pair of hearing aids for the first time in years, Chapman was sitting in a car with his close friends and remembers the moment vividly: "I was blown away by the beauty of it. At one point of the song, it sounded like angels singing, and I suddenly realized that this was the first time I was able to appreciate music. Tears rolled down my face, and I tried to hide it. But when I looked over, I saw that there wasn't a dry eye in the car."

Chapman just acquired the newest technology in hearing aids because his health coverage under his parents' insurance plan was about to expire.

He had been skeptical and reluctant to update his devices, but his parents urged him to investigate any improvements in the technology.

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"I decided to give it a shot because a lot can happen in four years. It was one of the best decisions of my life," Chapman said. "I can hear much higher tones than before. It is also much louder and clearer. I actually have to keep my hearing aids at about 70% power-volume most of the time."

Now Chapman is blogging about his experience on his film website, ArtoftheStory.com, and on the social news site Reddit in a post entitled "I can hear music for the first time ever, what should I listen to?"

More than 14,000 responses came, with people sharing their favorite songs and recommending all kinds of melodies for Chapman to experience for the first time.

Some readers posted links to YouTube videos of their favorite tunes. Others provided long lists of tracks and artists. And some just left messages letting him know they were touched or inspired by his story.

"I am blown away by all the feedback," Chapman said. "I'm currently organizing the most popular comments and suggestions and will be posting them soon."

Among them: "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley, "Paranoid Android" by Radiohead and "Brain Damage" by Pink Floyd, some of his current top songs.

Chapman's favorite songs

The most-suggested track was "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, which he described as a masterpiece.

"I was nervous that the hype would ruin it for me," Chapman said of the 1975 hit. "I was wrong."

Chapman, who studied creative writing and film at Pepperdine University, is a lifelong movie buff who even learned how to lip-read by matching up actors' lips with the subtitles.

Being able to add music to his arsenal as a filmmaker is the most exciting part of the discovery, he said.

He even started working with a composer on a short he shot several months ago.

"It's ironic, because when I shot this short, I never in a million years thought I would be able to work on the soundtrack. Now, a few months later, I'm sitting next to my friends, layering different tracks," Chapman said.

Now, when he sees someone singing along or dancing to the rhythm of a beat, he smiles in sympathy.

"I understand how it could have such an impact on the listener," he said.

But on his personal blog, he pointed out that he still enjoys the absence of sound.

"When I turn my aids off, my thoughts become more clear and it's absolutely peaceful," he wrote.

"I hope that one day hearing people get the opportunity to experience utter silence."

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