Arts poster
onfronting hearing loss helped inspire Eatonville musician and mountain guide Win Whittaker to create Eatonville’s annual Scholarship Music Festival to support aspiring young artists. 

For the second year in a row, Rainier Creative Arts Alliance’s will present the concert Saturday, July 13, from 12 noon to 10 p.m. at Glacier View Park, 209 Fir Ave. N. Eatonville — rain or shine. Proceeds from this year’s festival will benefit the 2020 Creative Arts Scholarship.

Proceeds from this family-friendly music festival will benefit an ongoing creative arts scholarship in memory of John Bratholm and additional scholarship opportunities for EHS graduates in 2020. 

Though he’s a professional mountain climber, one of Whittaker’s first loves was music and creative arts.

His hearing loss created a pause in his life with music. After learning about a new kind of hearing aids, he was reunited with his passion for music and in turn inspired to help support those in the creative spaces as well.

As a professional, his father, mountaineer Lou Whittaker, started the guide service, Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. which celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“I was born into climbing, not forced into it by any means,” Win Whittaker said. “I started with the guide service and did some other things with bands and music, and found my way back to the Mountain.”

He found music at the same time, living in Ashford, WA and going to school at Columbia Crest, where he met his musical partner, vocalist Denel Kessler.

“We started a band, and I was playing a local tavern at age 16 – sitting outside during the breaks (because alcohol was served),” he said. “There was nothing else to do, although outdoor recreation was a good draw.”

Whittaker said he picked up the guitar, because it closely matched the tennis racked he played as an “air guitar.” For the past 1½ years, Whittaker has been into acoustic guitars, including a 12-string and 6-string Taylor guitars and a 6-string Ovation. In the band, he also plays a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar.

About 15 years ago, Whittaker said it became apparent that he was experiencing a hearing loss. Music a chain saw, and power tools — and never wearing earplugs added up.

“I can attribute it to standing right next to that crash symbol on my left side. The hearing in my left ear is worse than in my right,” he said.

It began affecting his climbing business, teaching 9 to 18 clients outside on sunny days in climbing school. He found himself asking clients to repeat questions.

“It just got to a point where you can’t get around it. You’re just asking people, ‘can you say that again, sorry, pardon me,’ ” Whittaker said. “It was becoming an issue in my work life. — I also write and record music, and I knew I had that hearing loss.”

Whittaker said he had lost his ability to hear sound at higher frequencies. In music, Whittaker found ways to compensate. When driving in his car, he’d turn the bass completely off and the treble all the way up. He would listen to a professionally-recorded album to match the tonal mix of his music.

“If a piece of music matched John Mayer, I would put that on and listen to that, and make my music in the same tonal range,” he said. 

He worked so that his final product would match the tones.

“Finally, about three years ago, I was dragged into a hearing booth at the Puyallup Fair, and an audiologist said, ‘you definitely have a moderate hearing loss,” Whittaker said. “But I didn’t immediately get a hearing aid, because being a musician, I wanted to control what I heard.”

Then, he heard about a hearing aid tied to an iPhone where he could control what he heard, and control the highs and lows, not just the volume. Whittaker tried out the Resound hearing aids and said they were great. 

He rediscovered his world, but the audiologist said it would take two weeks to deliver his hearing aid. When he expressed dismay, the audiologist’s associate gave him the demo set so that he could leave the fairgrounds with it.

“It was a rainy day, so when I walked out, I could hear tennis shoes for the first time in many years,” Whittaker said. “It’s hard to say when last time I heard wet cement meeting a tennis shoes, but it was a good eight years earlier.” 

After rediscovered the world of hearing, it was only natural for Whittaker to be inspired to start the music festival after Denel's brother-in-law, John Brantholm passed away in February 2018. Whittaker worked with Kessler and Randy Oxford to put the festival together, to honor Brantholm’s many contributions to the community and benefit a creative arts scholarship in his memory. The first festival was held August 24, 2018.

 “It all came together in four months and we raised $1,700. On the awards night at Eatonville High School when Tammy presented the award, to McKenzie Waller, it was bittersweet,” Whittaker said. “But I was glad we were able to honor him that way. She’s a wonderful girl, very motivated.”

When he was putting out fliers for this year’s festival, Whittaker said it generated excitement in every establishment. But without confronting the hearing loss, the festival might not have happened.

“I was becoming unable to do music out of fear because I had no idea how it would sound to people,” he said. “But now with hearing aids, I feel confident. That is the key. Not just playing and recording, but my performance has improved incredibly over the last year and a half.”

You can check out Rainier Creative Arts Alliance’s Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2320675891492366/ for more information and important updates.

Tickets are $20 and available at Postnet or online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4217294.
For information on Resound hearing aids, visit https://www.resound.com/en-us/hearing-aids