Musician in an orchestra? Here is how to avoid hearing damage.

Band Trumpet

A jet engine 300 meters away. An air raid siren up close. That’s how loud the London Royal Opera House should have been according to Christopher Goldscheider. The 45 year old viola player was attending a rehearsal of Richard Wagners Walküre in 2012. Now he claims he has remaining hearing damage due to that rehearsal. This because the rehearsal came as an ‘acoustic shock’ of 137 decibel thanks to the 18 brass players. He isn’t able to play music anymore, let alone enjoy listening to music.

Hearing damage turns into lawsuit against orchestra

The man filed a lawsuit against the London Royal Opera House. First of all to receive the 750 pound a month he currently misses out on. And he wants a compensation for the hearing damage he now suffers from. The judge ruled in favor of the viola player.
Since mister Goldscheider isn’t the only artist with hearing damage, British orchestras now worry about facing some kind of precedent.

This is not just a problem in the UK. All around the world orchestras now start to fear for more damage claims against them since tinnitus is becoming a far more common problem.

Why hearing protection for musicians is crucial

For instance in the Netherlands there have been multiple cases against orchestras. Most of the times the judge ruled in favor of the musician. In 2009, the orchestra of Gelder was held responsible for the hearing loss of a cellist. Even though they were the first orchestra in the world to hand out free hearing protection.

When asked, every orchestra claims to offer hearing protection. Every organization has a deal with a hearing-aid maker. They can make custom-fit earplugs and these things are getting more advanced.
Despite this, not every musician is wearing earplugs. This due to the fact orchestras try to tackle hearing damage in other ways:

1. Install Noise Barriers

noise barriers are placed behind musicians to avoid hearing damage
It’s hard to spot the shield because they’re designed to be invisible

Often they’re hidden in plain sight. Mostly covered in black and they seem to be the music stand. But with bigger productions and bigger podia the stage is covered in barriers to reduce the noise. As shown in the picture above.
Sound dampening happens through walls build out of wood with Styrofoam panels on the inside, draped with a black curtain. These are used to lower the sound They’ve build several types of these things, but the perfect one hasn’t been built yet.

2. Experiment with the configuration

experiment with the configuration to avoid hearing damage
The brass players are placed on top so the sound passes over the strings.

It’s kind of important where you place the guy with the trombone. As brass players and percussion players are the biggest culprits, it matters if you’re sitting 1 meter or 3 meters away. So ideally you sit a bit further, best when the piece you’re going to play is a heavy, loud musical number.

In the best case they expand the stage and create enough space between the musicians. Sometimes it’s just not possible and noise barriers have to do the trick.

3. Create awareness

It’s a misunderstanding that tinnitus or other forms of hearing damage emerge out of a peak incident. A constant high volume is even more damaging.
That’s information that needs to get out there. When you had a rehearsel that was kind of loud you should protect your ears afterwards when you walk into traffic. When you practice at home, you better protect yourself too.
Everything starts with knowing how to protect yourself and above all, against what you need to protect yourself.

Sometimes it’s hard to spread awareness to young musicians since they’re used to loud music from clubbing for example. Often they see hearing damage as a problem for old people. Now retirement ages are going up and you’ll have to play music until your 67, you better think about protecting your ears right now.

4. Make hearing damage discussable

As a musician you depend on your hearing. Admitting it’s not what it used to be, is hard. A lot of artists feel that admitting they suffer from hearing loss, they lose face.
But the taboo is steadily being broken.

“It’s important to talk about hearing damage.”, says Roland Kieft, CEO of the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. “In the past I’ve seen people fall over because the pain in their ears was so bad. Ten years ago you’d have been a whiner if you said the orchestra was too loud for you. That’s over. Now we specifically ask people to let us know when it’s too loud for them.”

5. Agreements with conductors

Sir Simon Rattle of the London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle of the London Symphony Orchestra

A lot of orchestras include in the contract that the conductor will be held responsible for the volume of the orchestra. And the composers are asked to keep in mind to go easy on the louder parts. So don’t be afraid to reach out to your conductor.
It’s all fun with all these big and loud instruments, but let’s keep it safe.

6. Spread the rehearsals

Even the planners of events are asked to keep this stuff in mind. They receive a list of musical pieces and their decibel levels so they can plan the night exact no two loud pieces follow up on each other.
Ever since 2008, it’s enforced by European law to take in count how much decibels musicians are exposed to.

These programs get a color code. Green for something quiet, red for louder pieces. After a red piece has been performed there should be a green one. You get how it works.
The place where you perform is important too. You’ve got to make sure there is enough space to let the sound leave the room.

In the National Opera of Amsterdam they even spread the loud rehearsals as far as possible to do  some damage control. Sometimes they hire extra people to rotate among the musicians.

7. Wear earplugs

According to Roland Kieft, there have to be structural changes. Ever since he saw the audience wearing earplugs, he knew something had to change.
People need to take hearing damage and hearing protection seriously.
So why won’t you, the artist, wear it yourself? There are enough reasons to wear earplugs and some are especially designed for musicians.

We are used to, even addicted to loud noises. Did you know classical music was more quiet in the time it was written? Due to the evolution the instruments have been through, everything is louder now.
It’s time to talk about what needs to change and how to use hearing protection to do so.

Discover the beautiful, practical and above all safe Loop earplugs.

Here is how to avoid hearing damage

As a musicians playing in an orchestra you can avoid hearing damage by following the next steps:

  1. Install noise barriers
  2. Experiment with the configuration
  3. Create Awareness
  4. Make hearing damage discussable
  5. Agreements with the conductors
  6. Spread the rehearsals
  7. Wear earplugs

 

 

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