Felicity Bleckly

‘Felicity emerges from the sounds of silence’

For 20 years Felicity Bleckly lived in a world without sound.

When Michael Jackson released the 1987 smash hit Smooth Criminal, Ms Bleckly never heard it, nor did she hear Kurt Cobain’s raspy screams in the 1991 anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Ms Bleckly thought she would be lost in a world of silence forever.

But by 2002 her hearing was restored as advances in audiology saw her eligible for cochlear implants.

Last year the Strathalbyn woman, now 65, played the piano at an international concert for deaf people in Poland and this weekend will perform at a student concert in Stirling as part of her grade eight piano repertoire.

Ms Blackly first knew her hearing was impaired at the age of 16 after a standard hearing test at school found she had a high frequency hearing loss.

She grew up around music and worked in the music industry, selling pianos and organs by day and teaching piano lessons and playing music in restaurants by night.

At the age of 28 she was one day talking on the phone when she suddenly thought her caller had hung up.

Shifting the phone to the other ear, Ms Bleckly realised the caller was still talking – she had gone deaf in her left ear.

In 1985 at the age of 35 she was completely deaf in both ears and remained that way for the next two decades.

“I was out with my work colleagues one day and we all went into a music store,” Ms Bleckly said. “There were people dancing and suddenly it hit me how much I had missed because this was in the mid 90’s and I hadn’t heard music for about 10 years.”

She gave up her life of music, grieving as though she had lost a child.

She suffered depression and missed out on 20 years of music and sound. The doctors had no real explanation, other than a suspected long-term effect of contracting measles in her childhood.

“When I sold my piano, I cried my heart out because that was a real admission that I was going to be deaf forever,” Ms Bleckly said.

“I didn’t even have a TV, couldn’t listen to radio, couldn’t listen to music, couldn’t go to the movies, couldn’t do all sorts of things.”

In 2000, a 52-year-old Mr Bleckly’s world was restored when she became the 94th South Australian adult to receive a cochlear implant in one of her ears. The first time it was switched on it was “instantly successful”. One of the first pieces of music she heard after two decades of silence was French pianists Richard Layton’s Ballade Pour Adeline.

In 2010 Ms Bleckly was fitted with a second cochlear implant and five years later she was invited to play the piano at the Beats of Cochlea, an international concert for deaf people, in Poland.

“The whole experience was so amazing that it reignited my desire for music and to play the piano again,” she said.

She performed Ballade Pour Adeline to a live audience of thousands.

After taking lessons in Grade 8 piano with Stirling teacher Elaine Henn, Ms Bleckly will perform at a student concert at Sunset Rock Church, Stirling on Sunday.

By Melissa Keogh, The Courier Newspaper, 14 December 2016; Photo courtesy of The Courier Newspaper.