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Musician plays with one ear

FORT WORTH | If you met Samuel Boutris, you would not assume he is a musician.

He was born without a left ear and has a slight misalignment of the jaw. But this Fort Worth 19-year-old recently gained acceptance to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, a top conservatory in Philadelphia, where he will continue his clarinet education.

For Mr. Boutris, who has played clarinet since sixth grade, acceptance into Curtis came on his third audition. “It’s great,” he said. “I was close, but never got there. Now I have.”

The road to Curtis has not been easy. Mr. Boutris has suffered the effects of Goldenhar syndrome, a congenital defect that usually involves deformities of the face. The consequences are merely cosmetic for most, but for a musician, missing an ear poses obvious challenges.

“When I was learning, I could not actually hear if I was off-pitch. My teacher would intentionally play [off-key], and I had to feel it,” Mr. Boutris said.

Goldenhar affects 1 in 5,600 people worldwide, and Mr. Boutris’ case is fairly severe, said Dr. Kenneth Lee, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

“The loss of the ear would give him only unilateral hearing. It makes it difficult to localize sound,” Dr. Lee said. In a noisy room, such as an orchestra hall, it would be a challenge to focus on an individual conversation, he said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports