Chattanooga violinist battles partial deafness

Chattanooga violinist battles partial deafness

March 27th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts eighth grader MacKenzie Hammond studies music at her school and is the principal second violinist with the CSO Youth Philharmonic.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


MacKenzie Hammond, 15, is a first violinist who plays in the high-school orchestra at Chattanooga's Center for Creative Arts. She is also the principal second violinist in the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Philharmonic and has attended the Southeast Chamber Music Institute at Tennessee Tech University.


  • School: Eighth-grader at Center for Creative Arts.

  • Siblings: Sister, Maggie, 6.

  • Pets: A Chihuahua named Lupe.

  • Favorite composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Antonin Dvorak.

  • Favorite violinists: Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern.

  • Favorite bands: The Beatles, Black Sabbath, The Black Keys and Kings of Leon.


Do you know a child age 15 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at or call him at 423-757-6205.

Just when MacKenzie Hammond began to think of playing music as something she couldn't live without, it started to slip through her fingers.

Now 15, MacKenzie began studying violin two and a half years ago while living in Knoxville. At almost the same time, she began experiencing severe pain in her right ear.

The family thought the earaches were the result of sinus infections, but a later examination revealed a cholesteatoma, a tumor eating away the bones of her inner ear.

A series of surgeries removed the tumor before it could spread and paralyze her facial muscles but not before MacKenzie lost almost all the hearing in her right ear.

With no sign of the tumor for 18 months, MacKenzie readily cracks jokes about her ear being reattached crookedly after her last surgery. She dismisses any thought of her condition being a handicap, despite affecting her ability to hear those around her in an orchestra setting.

"It's been a gradual thing, so it's not been dramatic," she said. "I didn't even realize it for a while."

In two years, she has risen up the ranks to enviable positions at school and in the city's youth symphony program.

As an eighth-grader at Center for Creative Arts, MacKenzie sits in the first-violin section of the high school orchestra. She is also the principal second violinist of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera's Youth Philharmonic.

MacKenzie said she felt drawn to the violin because of its ability to convey emotion. A desire to achieve that level of emotionality has pushed her to understand the composer's intent when she tackles a new piece.

"Playing an instrument, in general, especially for me, lets you connect with your emotions on a different level," she explained. "Sometimes, I play a scale, and it hits me as this big, emotional thing."

MacKenzie has looked for opportunities to improve her playing. Last summer she attended the Southeast Chamber Music Institute at Tennessee Tech University.

While there, she received word that she would be leading the Youth Philharmonic's second-violin section this year.

MacKenzie said she considers the position, and the accompanying responsibility of coordinating her section mates, as an honor greater than playing more complicated parts as a first violinist.

Even after a spot opened up for MacKenzie to move up the ranks she said opted to retain her position as a principal.

Philharmonic conductor Sandy Morris said MacKenzie's passion and insightful suggestions have proven she is a good candidate for a leadership role.

"It has been very good experience for her because I'm sure she will lead other sections in the future," she said. "She brings a lot to the table."

Even after MacKenzie's relatively short period on the instrument, her mother, Karen Hammond, said she sees no reason her daughter can't achieve her dream of attending The Juilliard School in New York.

Hammond said she is inspired by MacKenzie's accomplishments, which she finds all the more impressive in light of the obstacles she has had to overcome.

"She's done amazingly well starting where she was to where she is now in just two and a half years," she said. "I think she can do a lot with [music], especially since she's come so far in such a short time."

Contact Casey Phillips at or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @Phillips CTFP.