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How the Olympic composer hurt the hearing loss community

We never seem to tire of cheering for individuals who overcome adversity in pursuit of their goals. When they have a physical impairment, such as hearing loss, it often makes us appreciate their achievements even more.

Heather Whitestone, a deaf ballerina, won Miss America in 1995.  Deaf National Team swimmer, Marcus Titus, is a 2016 Olympic hopeful. Marlee Matlin, a deaf performer, won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2008 for her performance in Children of a Lesser God.

composer fakes hearing lossThat’s why it wasn’t hard to admire Mamoru Samuragochi, the Japanese composer who claimed he had a hearing impairment for the past 20 years. His popular works include soundtracks for the video game “Resident Evil” as well as “Symphony No 1, Hiroshima” which the Japanese people adopted as an anthem following the 2011 tsunami. Japanese skater, Daisuke Takahas, skated to his Sonatina in Violin during his short program at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

Samuragochi, who holds a government-issued disability card, said he was the son of Hiroshima A-bomb victims, a self-taught musician and composer, and was struck by deafness at the age of 35.

Incredibly, the world recently discovered that Samuragochi’s compositions were actually the work of Takashi Niigaki, a part-time music school teacher whom Samuragochi hired as a ghostwriter. The ghostwriter, who earned 7 million yen (approximately $69,000) over the past 18 years, said Samuragochi couldn’t even write a musical score and threatened to commit suicide if he stopped writing for him.

Most importantly – Samuragochi isn’t really deaf. Niigaki implied Samuragochi was faking his hearing impairment in order to draw comparisons to Beethoven and boost his popularity.

Samuragochi’s responded by saying his “hearing returned three years ago” and apologized to his fans for not revealing that fact. He has agreed to return his disability card if new tests reveal his hearing has returned.

Ludwig Van Beethoven

It’s no wonder that Samuragochi chose Ludwig Van Beethoven’s coattails to ride. It would be difficult to understand how a deaf individual could be a world-class composer if it weren’t for his well-documented story.

Beethoven’s father, a musician, noticed his son’s musical talent at an early age. He thought his son would be the next Mozart and made him practice accordingly – even lying about his age at times to make him appear younger than he was. As a result, Beethoven published his first work before the age of 12 and wrote 9 symphonies between 1800 and 1824.

Although the composer knew he was having difficulty with his hearing in 1798, he didn’t admit his hearing was degenerating until 1801 in letters to friends. Like many other present day individuals with hearing loss, he began avoiding social gatherings because he didn’t want to admit he couldn’t hear. By 1818, it’s suspected he was completely deaf and began communicating by writing in notebooks -- now known as the “Conversation Books.”

We will never know exactly why Beethoven lost his hearing; however, we do know he complained of tinnitus, saying his ears would “sing and buzz” all day and night. He also complained of hypercusis, saying he couldn’t bear it when people shouted. He sought help for his deafness for years and suffered from anxiety and deep depression as a result of his impairment.

Beethoven eventually learned to cope with his deafness and continued to write music. At the onset of his hearing loss, he taught himself how to distinguish musical notes by placing his hand on top of the piano. He used ear horns to amplify sound for as long as possible and his Conversation Books to communicate how he wanted his music to be played. Beethoven Symphony No 9, Op. 125, D Minor “Choral” was written in 1824 when Beethoven was completely deaf. A soprano soloist who was singing along with the piece when it premiered in Kärntnertortheater in Vienna, turned the conductor around to accept the applause he could not hear.

What’s the big deal?

Because hearing loss affects livelihood as well as quality of life, hearing health consumer groups have been fighting for equality and human rights for hearing-impaired individuals for decades. The World Federation of the Deaf was established in Rome in 1951, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990.

In America alone, there are approximately 28 million hearing impaired individuals. Seventy percent of them rely on hearing aids to improve their hearing, the other 30 percent have severe to profound loss which amplification cannot help. Most Americans wait an average of seven years before having their hearing loss diagnosed and treated. Those that do not seek treatment for their hearing loss are susceptible to anxiety, depression and social isolation.

That’s why it’s no surprise the hearing loss community is outraged by Samuragochi’s deception. His pretext may cause some to question those who truly have hearing loss – and prevent those who suspect they have it from seeking treatment. While Samuragochi’s actions are reprehensible, they present us with another opportunity to celebrate true hearing-impaired champions and recommit ourselves to advocating for hearing health awareness and education.

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