MUSIC HALL FAIR PARK
Bud Porter had been attending Dallas Summer Musicals at the Music Hall at Fair Park for over 20 years.
Suffering from hearing loss, he understood nothing—not even with the hearing assist headsets. Bud went to the theatre to be social with his wife. He took audience cues to know when it was time to laugh and when it was time to clap...
When the Music Hall at Fair Park began implementing upgrades to the acoustics and audio systems for the venue, they looked at the Music Hall’s hearing assist systems and the ‘state of the art’, looking for a system that would perform better using state of the art technology, meet the needs of a broad base of users and be affordable.
Barry Epstein, a member of the DSM Executive committee and long-time DSM supporter, was concerned by the limited options that were available. With an extensive background in engineering and computers, his brain wouldn’t stop pursuing the problem.
“It bothered me that much of the technology dated back to the 1930’s, had quality, cost or use limitations and did not totally focus on the broad needs of the hearing impaired,” shares Epstein.
Epstein first collaborated with Ryan Knox of Idibri—the theatre consultants designing the audio upgrades for the Music Hall at Fair Park to develop a completely new approach that would offer sound enhancements to all hearing assist users. The approach was eventually trademarked as Hear Us Now™ but rather than market as a brand, the solution is owned by a foundation who oversees its implementation and success in venues. Impressed by the dramatic favorable reaction of the first test users, Epstein and his wife, Paddy, decided to pursue the foundation approach as a means to expedite understanding of the technical and operational requirements for hearing assist in various venues and to provide a flexible and low-cost means of implementation. While it is unusual for a non-profit to apply for a patent, a patent application has been filed to be used as part of Hear Us Now’s thrust to preserve performance quality.
One of the first tests in the development of the Hear Us Now™ system was in partnership with the University of Texas at Dallas’s Callier Center for Communication Disorders--a leader in providing advanced evaluations and innovative treatments for children and adults with a variety of speech, language and hearing disorders.
The Callier Center facilitated the attendance of over 50 hearing-impaired school children to experience the Dallas Summer Musical’s performance of The Little Mermaid using the updated equipment.
As children were interviewed about the experience after the performance, they responded:
It was amazing. Definitely a big difference…
I loved the songs.
It was beautiful…
One mother commented:
As the actors went from one scene to the next, my son would jump or applaud. He was very excited to see what was happening when before, he would lose interest.
Carol Cokely, PhD, CCC/A Clinical Associate Professor Coordinator of Clinical Teaching for the Callier Center shares, “We were thrilled at this opportunity. For some of the children who tried the headsets, it was the first time they had enjoyed a show. I think it is the responsibility of the community to make all of their treasures accessible to everyone.”
UTD Callier guides the hearing assist programs for many of the area school systems—including DISD. The success of the test based on the responses of the children who experienced the performance and their parents was one of the first steps in realizing just how significant the Hear Us Now™ breakthrough could be.
The next test was to go beyond the headsets to give hearing impaired audiences options in how they experienced the performance. As a result, Music Hall now offers four different hearing assist options.
Often in classroom settings, hearing-impaired students will use an FM receiver about half the size of a sugar cube as an attachment to their hearing aid. The receiver receives an FM transmission of their teacher’s voice on a channel specific to their particular classroom.
Hear Us Now™ wanted to find out if this system could be used effectively in an auditorium setting. So, the next substantial test was with a group of college graduate audiology students for a performance of Little Mermaid using the first six sections of the balcony at Dallas’ Music Hall at Fair Park optimized with a transmitter on the same frequency as the school’s classroom system.
“We wanted a section that would be totally invisible. Kids could sit with their parents,” explains Epstein.
Audiologist and professor at UT Dallas/Callier Center, Linda Thibodeau, PhD. arranged for the group of grad students to come in to test the section.
“When we brought the students in, they couldn’t understand anything. In fact, they heard two voices. The way hearing aids work, there is normally one microphone at a time, but with the FM signal arriving immediately, it was taking 80 milliseconds for the sound to travel up to the balcony. It was perceived as a very late echo louder than the FM voice. It was clear that we needed to make the ‘voices’ coherent to a tight tolerance due to the excessive loudness of the hearing-aid amplified echo,” continues Epstein.
Knox realized that the system was having the same issue that loudspeaker systems have in large rooms that are solved by delay rings. Knox found a delay unit which made the system work beautifully.
Hear Us Now™ is working to bridge the gap between the theatre / auditoria / worship center technology and the hearing-assist technology. They have a mission to create better experiences for the hearing impaired than what is currently available in venues for the arts, sports, events and worship—at price points and with multiple protocols such as headset, T-Loop, Streamer, and FM that make it easy for venues to offer the improved experience to virtually all of their guests.
Remember Bud Porter, who had to simply respond to visual cues? After experiencing the Hear Us Now™ solution, he shared this:
Just wanted to let you know that yesterday I attended the performance of Wicked, and the system for the assisted hearing worked wonderfully! It was especially good when the actors were speaking.
In short, a great show and an even better sound system. We were in New York earlier this month and attended three shows. None of those theaters t-loop systems worked as good as the Music Hall‘s. We are light years ahead!!
And Ralph Caprio wrote:
As I told you I have a difficult time with word recognition when listening to a musical performance in a theater. My first experience with this difficulty was in Boston when attending a revival performance of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. The words and music were extremely difficult to understand even with my newly acquired hearing aids. Removal of the aids improved things somewhat in that I could understand most of the words. If I had not seen the original performance, I would not have known what was going on. In addition, during the first act of a performance of Matilda in New York, I had similar experiences because of muffled and muted sounds. Things were improved during the second act with theater supplied hearing assistance.
While visiting Dallas, I went see Kinky Boots at the Dallas Summer Musicals. Because of hearing loss problem, I asked the theater if they had any assistance for the hearing impaired. They responded by lending me a newly developed headset which made the performance extremely enjoyable. It was the best theater supplied hearing assistance device I had ever received. All of the words and music were clear and fresh and I enjoyed the performance from start to finish. During the performance, I varied the volume from very low to high with no loss of word recognition or clarity.