We caught up with our inspirational gal pal, Siobhan, founder of Musicians4Hearing - a not-for-profit organisation raising awareness and funds for hearing care in the developing world. She is also launching her solo music project, Magnets, later this year, and she chats to us about the impact music has on her life and her love for Enya.
Saturn return: December 2017
How did you become interested in audiology?
By mistake. I was living in New Zealand with my partner at the time who had become very ill and was in and out of hospital. I was staying on the ward and I started talking to an audiologist who let me sit in for the day. One of the clients was a kid who was getting hearing aids for the first time. When they were switched on he turned to his mum and was so excited that he could hear her clearly. It was this really beautiful, honest moment and it was then I knew what I wanted to do.
You're currently undertaking a PhD investigating ways to prevent music induced hearing loss in young adults. What attracted you to this issue?
I'd always hoped to do research in the field of hearing and music, so when the University of Melbourne approached me and asked if I'd be interested in undertaking this project it was perfect. I love the creativity behind research. Research is imagining everyday things that others haven't discovered yet, and figuring out ways to prove it. Not that I've found anything so far - it's too early. Throughout science there's a bias towards positive findings, but I think it's good to acknowledge that finding nothing can be just as important - because that's still an answer.
What effect does loud music have on our hearing?
Hearing loss from music happens due to a combination of how loud and how long you listen to it. Measurements taken in rock venues suggest that on stage it can become unsafe by work, health and safety standards in as little as half an hour, and similarly for gig goers in certain venues. There's never been a large-scale study on sound engineers, profiling their hearing and whether they've suffered any hearing damage. So part of my project will be testing the hearing of lots of sound engineers and seeing what symptoms and hearing disorders they have, if any, to form a foundation for the research project. This PhD will be such a small pinprick in all the questions that need to be asked.
After playing keys with a number of Melbourne bands like Sons of Rico and Henry Wagons, we're very excited to see you launch your own music project, Magnets. Can you fill us in on why it became important to you to do your own thing?
For a long time music was life or death to me; I was mentally unwell and it pulled me through. It's been that angel when all other lifeboats were taken - I've always had my guitar, keyboard, pen, paper, voice. I have a lot to thank it for.
To play music live is to overcome my deepest trauma. For years I was recovering from sexual assault associated with music, in which I'd been conditioned to associate performance with punishment. Now, to play anything I've written in front of others I am fighting that, which is why it means so much to me.
What are you saying through your music?
The first song to come out will be on the Mental Health Commission's CD. I got into a loop where I was asking for help from others so much that I forgot to ask for it from myself. We're often told to reach out and ask for help, but it's just as important to ask ourselves. Asking basic questions- Have I drunk water in 12 hours? Have I showered today? When was the last time I ate? Tiny baby steps that help you help yourself.
Who is your musical inspiration?
Enya! I am not even fucking kidding. I grew up smashing her CDs. Everything I do is constantly written with layers of vocal harmonies. If there's a synth that could be played I remove it and put it in vocal synth. I love her. She lives in her own castle with 12 cats. She rarely goes out, she doesn't tour, she doesn't give a fuck.
How have you developed as a musician, and what were you trying to achieve?
I've taken an interesting journey with my music. As a teenager I practised 4 hours or more a day to become a classical piano performer. Then when I was 18 I had my first traumatic flashback associated with music, which provoked a terrible bout of depression. I no longer wanted what I used to and I stepped away from music for 4 years. I didn't think I'd ever come back to it, but then I was asked to fill in playing music for a comedy group, The Big Hoo Haa. Before my first performance I remember being told, 'You're so nervous, you don't need to be,' but it meant so much more to me than they realised. This experience began my slow exposure back into music.
I've since played prog rock with Sons of Rico for 2 years which was a lot of fun. So much E major. Most recently I played country music with Henry Wagons, where I've learnt that I need to become messier. Transitioning from classical to contemporary is making mistakes on purpose. Getting it dirty, getting it grungy. That's what I'm working on now.
Why did you start Musicians 4 Hearing?
After finishing uni I wanted to run away and start a hearing clinic in a developing country, but I soon realised that I'd get there and be broke within 6 months. I decided to try and be the bridge between places that have money and places that don't M4H aims to fund hearing care projects in the developing world and raise awareness by promoting behavioural change in musicians. We try to have Auslan interpreting at our events wherever possible.
What have you experienced in the developing world that solidified your aspirations to fund hearing care in places that don't have the resources?
I was in Cambodia helping test a 3-year-old boy's hearing. He wasn't responding to the test, and I asked whom I could send the paediatrician referral to. I'll never forget the way they answered - what paediatrician? There simply was none. I watched the face of the father change as he was told in language I didn't understand that nothing could be done for his son, and that the boy would likely never be able to understand language. It changed me.
What are the hardest, and most rewarding things, about what you do?
My biggest worry is not being able to make a huge difference. We've been able to fund a clinic in Cambodia to help treat street kids with ear infections, which is great, but it's hard to embrace that impact when you know how big the problem is.
Photography / Julia Petricevic and Simone Ruggiero
Words / Siobhan McGinnity
Location / Docklands, Melbourne