Jesse Kazemir loves music. Celtic music, especially.
The 16-year-old Port Coquitlam fiddler has a fondness for its carefree sound. "It's so fun to play," he said, "because you don't have to have perfect technique. You can make stuff up as you go along."
Kazemir picked up the fiddle at 12, after a year of classical piano, and soon joined the North Shore Celtic Ensemble (NSCE) as a junior member. Twice a week, his mother, Teresa, drove him to North Vancouver for practices, and she continues to do so now that he's part of the senior ensemble.
Still, the fiddle isn't the only instrument the Grade 11 Riverside secondary student loves. He also plays the guitar and hand drum. As well, he has composed a short Celtic tune called Out of the Blue, which will be one of three songs penned by NSCE students that will be featured at the group's upcoming winter concert in Port Coquitlam on Saturday - civic election night - at Terry Fox Theatre.
Kazemir's musical accomplishments are impressive for any teen.
But he's just not any teen.
Kazemir was born without openings in both of his ears, a condition known as aural atresia that affects one in 20,000 babies a year in Canada (though most of them have one canal opening).
As a result, Kazemir relies on hearing devices called BAHAs, or bone-anchored hearing aids, as he has a 60 to 70 decibel loss, his mother said.
Teresa Kazemir, who, ironically, was a trained speech pathologist before she had Jesse, said her boy has had hearing aids since he was two months old. At eight, he had his first surgery to install a BAHA in one ear, and implant a titanium screw and abutment. A second operation for the other ear came two years ago.
To talk to him, you would never know he has a hearing loss until he pulls back his longish hair to show the devices. And he can hear perfectly well, too, in most situations. Where it's noticeable is when he's in a crowd: the school cafeteria or hallway, a loud show, for example.
"I sometimes can't hear someone because of all the background noise," he said.
As for his classes, the honour roll student offers a mini microphone to the teacher before each session starts, of which the personal FM system transmits wirelessly to his BAHA at five decibels louder.
Sometimes, he can tell when his BAHAs are off. For example, when the batteries are fading or there is moisture in the devices, it can affect the sound quality. Kazemir also takes care when playing sports so the aids don't knock off or get damaged.
Other than that, Kazemir said he's "just like any other teenager.... The hearing loss is sort of a part of me now and, if I had the chance, I don't think I would get rid of it."
NSCE director Jay Knutson called Kazemir's musical talents "remarkable. He has been a leader and an inspiration for the members of the North Shore Celtic Ensemble.
"Jesse's hearing impairment has never been a musical obstacle for him. He applies his natural abilities and strong work ethic to something he truly loves. The result is one of the finest young musicians I've had the pleasure of working with. It's a joy having him in this group," Knutson said.
These days, Kazemir is a role model in the hearing-impaired community, talking to B.C. families about how a hearing-loss child can lead an independent life. And he plans to accompany the NSCE to Quebec for concerts next year, just as he did last year when it toured Scotland for the Aberdeen International Youth Festival.
Asked about his plans after graduation, Kazemir responds, "I want to go to college or university to study applied sciences. And keep music as a hobby."
Tickets are $15/$10 for Transformations, North Shore Celtic Ensemble's winter concert at Terry Fox Theatre (1260 Riverwood Gate, PoCo) at 7:30 p.m., and are available at the box office or through www.nsce.ca.
Led by artistic directors Claude Giguere and Jay Knutson, a founding member of Spirit of the West, the North Shore Celtic Ensemble is a non-profit society started in 1999, where young musicians perform original West Coast Celtic tunes. Its senior ensemble, of which Jesse Kazemir is a member, consists of 22 students from North Vancouver, Langley, Maple Ridge, Burnaby, Vancouver and Port Coquitlam.