Chelsea is a twenty-three-year-old musician from Newcastle, NSW, who has been deaf since early childhood. She has no hearing in her left ear from a cholesteatoma, a skin-based growth which can degenerate the structures of the middle ear, and uses a hearing aid in her right ear. Nonetheless, Chelsea is a talented and passionate multi-instrumentalist, specialising in drums and percussion, and encourages others to use what they’ve got in order to pursue their goals.

Chelsea has played the drums for almost fourteen years, and can also play piano, guitar, and bass. She has undertaken both self-taught and formal methods of musical training – including lessons with Scott Baldwin from the Rubens (who was her favourite teacher!) with whom she practiced the art of playing by ear. She finds this to be more fun for her than simply reading music, and enjoys emulating techniques and exercises from watching videos of other drummers. Playing by ear is not something most musicians would consider fun, but luckily for Chelsea, she has almost perfect pitch!

Chelsea Withers in her natural element

Hearing Chelsea play, most people would be shocked to learn that she is deaf. The hurdle of deafness is invisible in her musical prowess, but it does present a different playing field in her learning process that many full-hearing musicians take for granted. Despite these challenges, Chelsea has still been able to obtain a Certificate III in Music, Performance, and a Certificate IV in Sound Production/Performance, and aims to someday tour with a band and offer music lessons to children and adults with disabilities so that music can be as accessible as possible to everyone who is interested in it.

An important aspect of Chelsea’s continued accessibility to music is ear care. Being a deaf musician, she understands the priority of preserving as much of her hearing as possible.

In Chelsea’s case, this means using a custom ear piece which can be hooked up to a monitor while she is performing to drown out some of the loudness of her drums, and using earplugs when necessary. This conscientiousness is important not only when Chelsea is performing, but when listening to live music too – a pastime that she loves and needs to continue without compromising her hearing. Prioritising ear care and musical accessibility is naturally a concern given Chelsea’s pre-existing deafness, but is something that needs to be emphasised among musicians and concert-goers in general, given how integral hearing is to our enjoyment of music, and how easily it can be taken for granted until damage is already done.

To other individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, but love music, Chelsea offers this advice: “get out there and give it a go, just because you’re deaf or hard of hearing does not mean you can’t give anything a go, what’s stopping you? Pick up an instrument and don’t be afraid to learn, music is such a wonderful part of life – make it apart of yours.”

By Alex Creece