Deaf organist’s hearing restored after operation

25 November 2016

Channel 4

“Apprehensive”: Charles Snowman and his wife during filming with Channel 4 at St Matthew’s, Edgeley

“Apprehensive”: Charles Snowman and his wife during filming with Channel 4 at St Matthew’s, Edgeley

AN ORGANIST who had suffered from profound deafness for the past five years has described the moment of hearing again as “startling”. He said that he was “very excited” to hear himself play again.

Charles Stowman, who is 76 and the organist at St Matthew’s, Edge­ley, in Stockport, was taking part in a Channel 4 documentary, Breaking the Silence Live, filmed at Man­chester Royal Infirmary. The pro­­­­­­gramme was broadcast on Tuesday. It followed a group of profoundly deaf people hoping to have their hearing restored.

Mr Stowman and six others were fitted several weeks ago with a cochlear implant, which stimulates the nerve that carries sound from the inner ear to the brain using electrical signals. The device was “switched on” on Tuesday — the feast of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians.

Although Mr Stowman was not one of the four people featured during the hour-long programme, his experience was shown on a live feed afterwards. In the first few minutes, he could not hear any improvement, he said, but when the volume was turned up he could hear “specific sounds” and talking.

He has been warned that it may be several weeks or months before he is fully used to the implant.

He had been “appre­hensive”, he said on Monday, about how much hearing he would regain, “because they [the doctors] had been very honest about it. They . . . can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to hear music properly again.”

Mr Stowman was 19 when he first played the organ at St Edward’s, Sutton, in Macclesfield, after the Vicar heard him playing hymns, by ear, on an old harmonium in his shed. He could not read music, but was asked to fill in for three weeks until the church found a new organist. He stayed on for 12 years. “But it was hard work,” he said.

He married Norma, who sings in the choir, 12 years ago. They had both been widowed. “He’s never had any lessons, but I think he’s one of the best organists I’ve ever heard,” she said. “I am excited to be able to hold a conversation with Charles again. When you can’t have that, it takes away your togetherness.”

The degeneration of his hearing had begun 20 years ago, and had been “deeply upsetting”, Mr Stow­man said. In the past five years, his hearing had constituted, at best, “a cacophony of noise a bit like the sound of a hoover, and quite often nothing at all”.

But he continued to play for services at St Matthew’s, relying on the Vicar to “stick to the script”, with no idea what he sounded like. His faith had kept him going, he said. “There’s a verse in Psalm 42: ‘This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.’ Without that, I couldn’t have done it, but it’s not been easy.”

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