Fourteen-year-old James Graugnard was born with almost no hearing and went fully deaf within a few years. Today, he plays the French horn in the Dutchtown High School marching band.
Diagnosed at 18 months with sensorineural hearing loss, James grew up with sophisticated hearing aids. His hearing was getting worse with age. When he was 6, James received his first cochlear implant — an exciting moment, he remembers.
“It’s a unique experience when you first get to hear everything,” he said.
His mother, Rebecca Graugnard, a science and social studies teacher at Dutchtown Middle School, remembers the excitement was delayed briefly.
“He was not very impressed at first,” she said. “It was quite different than how he naturally heard things.” That quickly changed as he explored this new world of sound, she added.
Now a high school freshman, Graugnard, who currently has no hearing without the use of his implants, also plays the piano and percussion. His sister has the same type of hearing loss, but doctors have been unable to draw any generic conclusions as to the origin. The rest of the family has normal hearing.
Dutchtown band director Sheily Bell calls Graugnard a leader.
“He is a great student,” Bell said. “He is outgoing with a potential to be a leader.”
Graugnard said he first started to listen to and play music when he would watch his grandfather play Fats Domino on the piano. “I loved watching him play and talk about it. Eventually, I learned it on my own,” he said.
Given the time, he believes he could learn any instrument by ear.
Graugnard practices his French horn daily and learns the tempo. Here, he said, he has the advantage of taking off the cochlear implants to feel the different vibrations. “Music is basically a series of vibrations put together. When I take off the implants, I can see changes I need to make to make the song sound better,” he said.
At school, Graugnard said, he can listen to the teacher without difficulty. But when it comes to focusing on his work he has another advantage. “When others are distracted by talking in the room, I can turn my implants down and finish my work,” he said.
Mitchell Dixon, who has known Graugnard for nine years, said his friend is an inspiration to others at school. “He is very active, always talking and being around everyone,” he said. Graugnard never has a problem with others and is always in a good mood, Dixon said.
At home, Graugnard loves to play the piano and percussion. He is partial to “Pirates of the Caribbean” and to songs by John Legend, Europe, Kansas and more. He said rhythm comes to him naturally.
Graugnard’s inspiration is Beethoven, the famous 18th-century composer who continued to pursue his passion for music even though he was losing his hearing and became nearly deaf. Graugnard said he realizes he could have that problem in the future and hopes to inspire others as Beethoven inspired him.
Graugnard’s love for music is paired with his passion for technology. He keeps up to date with a new Google watch. As for a career, Gaugnard’s goal is to create music with technology.