Conducting success

Senior drum major excels despite disability


Photo Texas Photography

Senior Stuart Hay excels as drum major despite complete hearing loss in his left ear.

After senior Stuart Hay was born, he failed the standard hearing test given to all newborns, but initially, doctors were unsure about what was causing the issues. Although hearing loss can negatively affect a student’s academic success, Stuart has continued to be successful in school and has found that having difficulty playing video games with his friends is the most annoying part of his hearing loss. 

“Mostly my hearing loss is just kind of a nuisance. If I’m standing in a large room or outside and somebody yells my name, I have no idea where it’s coming from,” Stuart said. “I have no directional hearing; every sound sounds like it’s coming from the right.” 

It was not until Stuart was five and underwent extensive testing that his parents discovered he was completely deaf in his left ear due to the auditory nerve that connects the ear to the brain being missing on his left side. Because of this, hearing aids or other amplifiers cannot help as it is the processing function that is missing.

“There’s no connection between his ear and his brain,” Stuart’s mom Terri Hay said. “Having a hearing aid wouldn’t help because amplifying the sound, if there’s no connection, wouldn’t do anything. There have been times when I have called his name and tried to get his attention and he wouldn’t respond at all. He might hear when somebody’s calling his name, but he can’t tell where it’s coming from.”

Stuart has found ways to work around his lack of directional hearing by having the band modify the seating arrangement.

“As far as performing, mostly my hearing loss affects where I sit in band because I have to sit at the end of the ensemble,” Stuart said. “I can’t sit in the middle because a lot of band is listening to the people around you so you can adjust your tuning and how loud you’re playing.” 

However, it’s hard to listen if he can’t hear the people on the left of him.

“Even though I’m in a spot where I can hear everybody, my hearing lacks distinction,” Stuart said. “I can’t tell everything that’s going on as well as somebody who has complete hearing can.” 

Stuart’s mom said she has always been impressed by how he has worked and excelled despite his hearing loss.

“I know he does have significant hearing loss,” Mrs. Hay said, “but because he’s compensated and does everything he’s wanted to do, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he has a disability.”

Accommodating Stuart’s hearing loss has been his parents’ focus since the beginning of his educational career, but they are also grateful that they did not find out how severe it was at birth.

“The fact that we found out when we did was good because I think that if we had known when he was an infant that he was hearing impaired, we might have treated him differently,” Mrs. Hay said. “It was also good that we found out before he started kindergarten because we were able to make sure that he was able to hear everything.”

Stuart does not see his hearing loss as a limitation and said that he enjoys challenges and leadership positions because they allow him to give back.

“After my freshman and sophomore year, I felt that I could do more to help the band,” Stuart said. “I wanted to go beyond the role of a section leader so I auditioned for drum major junior year and got field conductor, which is like a third string drum major.” 

This year when he tried out again, the job was up in the air, and an open audition. For a few weeks in May, drum major practices were held before school. Everybody who wanted to audition would go practice conducting, answering interview questions, and teaching how to march. 

“Being chosen as the head drum major means a lot,” Stuart said. “It’s exciting that the band directors trust me to lead the band and support the band towards success.”

Stuart’s mother has always supported his desire to pursue his goals and never expects his hearing loss to limit his ability to succeed.

“I was not surprised, he’s always been a natural leader who gets drawn to leadership positions and gets along well with others,” Mrs. Hay said. “It wasn’t surprising to me, but I wondered what it would be like to conduct and hear the metronome, but it all seems to be working out okay.”

In school, it has mainly been a matter of making sure Stuart’s teachers are aware of his hearing loss so they don’t think that he’s ignoring them if they call his name or come up on his left side.

“Stuart has always been great about speaking up if he needs something adjusted because of his hearing,” band director Laura Grems said. “Stuart is a wonderful student in and out of the classroom. We have been very lucky to have him as a part of the Pride of Bryan, and could not be more proud to have him as our head drum major this year.”

Stuart places a lot of value on the camaraderie and spirit of what the band brings to Friday nights.

“The football games have been and still are my favorite part of band because we get to use what we’ve learned on the marching field to show off the show and also support the team, the Shy-Annes, and the student section,” Stuart said. “It’s all the different student organizations coming together at the football games and we get to give it our all.

Senior Aiden Monsivais leads with Stuart and has found creative ways during performances to work around Stuart’s hearing loss.

“Stuart is a good drum major,” Aiden said. “We all work as a team and work to find ways to make his hearing loss a non-issue. We’ve come up with some interesting things that have made life in band a little easier beyond his deafness by coming up with signs to tell each other what we think in between parts so we can communicate while being 20-30 feet away from each other.”

Stuart’s focus remains on the band and the way he can support their success through leadership and community.

“Even as a freshman, Stuart has always been a very skilled player,” Grems said. “As he has progressed through band, he has really grown as a musician and a leader. All the choices he makes are always in the band’s best interest, and he always goes above and beyond.”