Determined young woman defies all odds by becoming talented musician – despite being profoundly DEAF

Ruth MacMullen, 29
Ruth MacMullen, 29
Ruth MacMullen, 29

A determined young woman has defied all odds by becoming a talented clarinet player – despite being profoundly DEAF.

Ruth MacMullen, 29, was diagnosed at just 18-months-old as “just one up from total deafness”.

Her parents were told by doctors that she would not be able to hear or talk – and that learning British Sign Language was her only option.

But as Ruth grew older she was determined to not let her lack of hearing stop her from singing – and playing a range of instruments.

With the help of two Cochlear implants and her mother’s early tuition – she is currently taking singing lessons to help her progress as a talented artist.

Ruth, of York, said: “There was no history in my family so it took a while for my parents to find out.

“They realised something was wrong because I was not responding to noises. My mum could drop a stack of saucepans and I wouldn’t wake up.”


Despite the early diagnosis, Ruth’s parents BeBe and Philip MacMullen weren’t prepared to accept what they were told without question, and became determined to give their daughter “a normal life”.

With the support of a high powered hearing aid and a speech and language therapist, Ruth was able to learn to speak and even began to sing.

Her mum BeBe taught her Ruth how to focus on the rise and fall of pitch so she could sing.

Ruth said: “My parents were open to the idea of sign language but what they wanted to do was to try and use my residual hearing.

“When I was eight I said ‘I really want to learn an instrument’ and They thought it was a brilliant idea. I wanted to learn the flute at first – but it was too soft so I learned the clarinet.”

Ruth not only learned the clarinet but went on to join an orchestra, a woodwind group and to pass her Grade 6 clarinet exam.

Ruth added: “Music was always important to me – I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. Music has been part of my life.

“I can’t tell you how much music means to me. I’m moved by beautiful music – it makes me happy.”

But the real game changer came when at the age of 13, Ruth was given a cochlear implant, an electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear.

Ruth was given a cochlear implant, an electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear
Ruth was given a cochlear implant, an electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear

Unlike hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants do the work of the inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain.

Speaking about the ‘life-changing’ implant, Ruth said: “You begin to hear noises but you don’t know what they are.

“It takes your brain years to learn what noises are and turn them into sound. There’s a big difference between a noise and a sound you understand.”

Adding: “I was going to school at the time so it was very difficult – but it was worth it.”

At the age of 23 Ruth was given a second cochlear implant which helped her to hear speech in a noisy environment.

And since then Ruth’s musical talents have flourished and she plays music frequently after taking up singing lessons.


Ruth said: “Singing is something I have wanted to do all my life – because when I was little I was bullied for my voice.

“I wanted to sing to the world – and when I had my cochlear implant I could hear enough to sing, it’s a miracle really.

Adding: “My mum still thinks it’s a miracle. It sounds cheesy but it’s true.”

SWNS_DEAF_MUSICIAN_008Ruth currently works as a librarian at York St John University after moving to the city to study a degree in history and English.

But she also works with charities to help people with hearing loss, including as a mentor for HearPeers, an online community where she offers advice to people who have, or have children with, profound or severe hearing loss.

Speaking about the advice she offers to parents, Ruth said, “It’s really important to look at what their children want out of life, to see if there’s a hobby they want to do and to support them with it.

“You are only limited if you allow yourself to be. It’s not just the ear, it’s the brain. The brain is a remarkable thing and it will cope if you practice and you push yourself.”

Ruth has urged people in York to speak to their GP about testing if they they or a relative may be experiencing problems with their hearing.

Speaking about what she calls the invisible stigma, Ruth said: “There’s a real stigma about people who do not hear properly.

Adding: “I think people need to speak clearly, face-to-face.”


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