One person's celebration is another's irritation


Could there be a better day than July 4 to consider how our ears hear noises? On the day that the fireworks boom, firecrackers dance and pop, and rockets blast, how do you feel about all the noise?

To the person in the thick of the celebration, the noise is just part of the fun and has no effect on their emotions. The more noise, the louder the better. Celebrants in my neighborhood got a week s head start. But for the person who is trying to sleep or concentrate on a good book, fireworks, firecrackers and rockets are deafening and annoying. When will it end?

What is pleasing to the ears of some is disturbing to another listener. I enjoy being awakened by the birds harmonizing at daybreak, but someone else may pull the covers over his head, hoping to drown out the noise.

Because the road where I live has for the past two summers become some sort of a testing route for motorcycles, I can testify firsthand to how maddening noise can be. Several riders race the engines full blast, again and then again, before taking off at full speed. I have no idea what they are trying to prove unless it s to see how much disturbance they can cause before official complaints are made.

But the noise of the motorcycle engines that has sent me reaching for an aspirin is probably sweet music to the driver sitting atop of the bike.

Other sounds receive different responses. As an example, for me to hear a barking dog brings immediate sympathy. I am certain the animal is tied up without water or food and I want to help. But to a person who cares little about animals it is just plain annoying.

Our listening responses can change over time. The winter months at the lake where I live are exceptionally quiet. On the one day each week that I stay overnight in Toledo, the city noise is disturbing. I am awakened many times during the night by train whistles and traffic, and can t wait to get back home for a good night s sleep. Still, I don t recall losing any sleep over such noise during the 40 years I lived in Toledo. We become accustomed to noise.

Right up until computers took over, the clanking of typewriters in the newspaper newsroom was intoxicating. It made you want to jump in and add to the noise. I feared the conversion to the computer would erase my inspiration, believing that the sound and rhythm of the typewriter keys were partly responsible for output. The new quiet extended into the composing room, which once was noisy as linotype machines turned out the hot type that printers pounded into the pages. Now it is very quiet in the composing room. I would once again like to hear it as it once was.

Music may be the best example of how we hear differently. At a recent Sunday wedding the music chosen for dinner was soft and from the 1950s and 60s. Conversation was easy, unlike some receptions, when talking to someone across the table means shouting. The group at my table remarked how delightful the music was, and how thoughtful it was of the bride and bridegroom to play tunes familiar to us. But as we seniors were leaving, the disc jockey was already jazzing up the dance program with music that we don t understand, that we classify simply as too loud.

Cell phones figure heavily among today s noisemakers. It s a shame that people have to be warned before a wedding, funeral, and in the theater to turn off their phones. Otherwise it would sound like band practice and disrupt the program. The wide range of rings can be entertaining unless you are waiting in a doctor s office; then it is considered impolite to answer the call and engage in a long conversation that everyone can hear. It seems that most everyone chooses a lively tune that calls attention in public places instead of just a plain old telephone ring.

There is one sound that every American hears equally. It is the flapping of the American flag in the breeze. That is music to every American s heart, and today, above the fireworks and the rockets red glare, listen for the flag that says freedom.