2019-01-10 / Around Town

Even Hearing Loss Hasn’t Stopped Betty Hauck

By Mark Gorman

Betty Hauck, professional violist, plays on despite hearing loss. Betty Hauck, professional violist, plays on despite hearing loss. There is something inspiring about musicians who overcome physical challenges. Professional viola player Betty Hauck has been on a roller-coaster journey that’s taken her from playing at the White House for President Kennedy and being in a string quartet with Yo-Yo Ma to experiencing moderate-to-severe hearing loss later in life.

Yet, against all odds, she plays on.

On Tuesday, Jan. 22, Hauck will speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., as part of their Lunch and Learn series. Newport String Project co-founder Ealain McMullin arranged the appearance.

“The Newport String Project is dedicated to exploring ways that music can make the world a more inclusive place. I’m a huge admirer of Betty and her story is incredible,” she said.

According to Hauk, classical musicians are more prone to hearing loss caused by loud sound exposure than rock musicians. “Apparently, it’s because classical musicians spend more hours every day playing, rehearsing, practicing, teaching and preparing than rock musicians,” she said.

After playing the viola for decades, Hauck noticed a change in her hearing. “[It] began in my 50s with tinnitus, a loud noise in my ears somewhat similar to a tape hiss,” she said. “It drove me crazy at first, and the only way I could get to sleep was using a white noise machine to drown out the tinnitus. Eventually, my brain got used to it.”

Earlier this year, Eric Clapton revealed he is suffering from the same condition.

“My hearing loss didn’t seem to affect my playing at first, but it gradually worsened over time,” she said. “Over 15 years ago, I finally faced the fact that I needed hearing aids to understand speech, but I kept it a secret from all but my close friends.”

As Hauck continued to perform, she decided to take a Zen-like approach to her worsening hearing. “I decided to treat it as a neutral event, neither good nor bad, but just something that happened,” she said.

But seven years ago, when Hauck had to quit playing professionally, she decided to stop playing her viola. “I had some interests like knitting, quilting and watercolor to fall back on, [but] it didn’t go very well,” she said.

She credits a one-woman show by Gail Haddam, who also suffered hearing loss, with getting her back in the music saddle.

“[Haddam said] ‘So, you have a hearing loss. Get over it. But first, you have to grieve,’” she said. “That hit me like a ton of bricks. I had not done that. I had tried to circumvent acknowledging the huge loss I had suffered. I had lost what I love to do, my professional life and the center of my social life all at once and I was in denial about how great a loss it was.”

Four years ago, Hauck started presenting talks at libraries, retirement communities, churches and to hearing loss groups about her journey as a professional musician.

At the Lunch and Learn event, she will also play a bit of viola. “I know I’ll never be the musician I once was, nor do I aspire to be, but I am very grateful to again have the joy of communicating with people through music,” she said.

The event is free, but RSVP is requested to msaunders@mlkccenter.org.

Return to top