Wendy: I often think the age of onset of the hearing loss, along with individual preferences, are not factored in the research and development communities. Hearing is important to the livelihood of a musician. The aim of the study is to evaluate the risk of progressive hearing loss during work in a classical orchestra. Music loses much of its luster and charm. was a fledgling screening program. Like Boyce, Holzbauer and Draeseke before him, FaurÃ© went deaf later in life and had serious trouble hearing high and low frequencies. I now work for the British Musicians’ Union, but before that I spent 25 years as a bass player in some very well known rock bands worldwide.
This starts with a temporary peeping in the ears after a practice session in the studio and ends up as permanent deafness. Listening to music with headphones on while traveling can be hazardous to hearing. Analysing the spectrum of a sound is a way of understanding its behavior in the frequency domain as opposed to how it behaves in the time domain: we are able to see the changes over time in what we call the envelope. With time, the cochlear hair cells (deep inside the inner ear) become frayed, flattened, and damaged from this loud noise. Performing on stage is also hazardous for the ears. His favorite Beethoven piece, the “Moonlight Sonata,” played in his head, and he scribbled it down from memory. First violins have it easier, though those sitting at the back of the first and second violins get the loud noise of the piccolo and horn sections.
Some orchestra pits and stages have risers, which are parts of the floor or stage that can move up or down. This helps to direct sound over or below the heads of other players, thus protecting their hearing. While on stage performing, musicians have often used floor wedges and monitors to better hear their band mates and themselves. One drawback to this is that the sound is directed at the musicians, and it can reach high levels of sound. Some people criticize composers that produce a large amount of compositions, and I can understand why. Thus, the sample mostly comprised musicians aged from 25 to 35 years (82.6%), who had spent from 6 to 15 years working (78.3%), and who were exposed to music during shows from 6 to 10 hours per week (47.8%). The problem here is that these things don’t repair themselves, with some exposures, they take a beating but come back.
But screens are not always the answer, as David McCallum, trumpet player with the BBC Concert Orchestra, said at a recent BBC conference on classical music and hearing. The BBC is currently working in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the orchestra sector to find practical solutions for musicians on issues around classical music, noise and musicians’ hearing. In-ear monitors are custom made for the musician’s ear, and they are made of silicone, acrylic, or hybrid mold. His influence is expansive, branching out to heavy metal, electronica and progressive rock. These monitors allow for improved sound quality to both the audience and the musician, simply by isolating the monitoring mix from the front area mix. “One of the orchestra’s bassoon players particularly uses one as he is in front of the trumpets,” says Doust. The hearwig is a padded hoop which sits behind and wraps around the head without touching it.
It comes on its own floor stand, onto which the back legs of the chair are placed, has a central “spine” behind the chair to support the protector, and can be rocked forward and back for comfort. “Clearly certain seats are unable to use these, but it does not appear to have a negative feedback on the players behind,” he adds. The natural sound from musicians’ earplugs solves this problem by reducing the volume without distorting the sounds. It was possible to obtain 429 musicians from nine different orchestras for the study, thus providing a responder quota of 63% of the musicians contacted. This lets you hear all notes clearly in the absence of high intensities. As you can see, advancements in hearing protection options for the musician have been made, especially for percussionists. Why are theatres and concert halls paying more attention to these issues now?
Both in-ear monitors and musicians’ earplugs can be custom made and fitted by a licensed audiology professional to each musician’s personal needs. There were initial worries that the regulations would be draconian, but they can be helpful for musicians, for example by making it easier for them to be assertive about requesting screens or altering seating arrangements, says McCallum. Some problems are difficult to solve unless theatres are refurbished, which is expensive. Interestingly, the kinds of sounds being played can affect how orchestral players feel. “If the sound is ‘comfortable’ it becomes far more acceptable than a discordant sound which the mind and ear struggle to analyse,” says Doust of the CBSO. “When Scriabin penned his Poem of Ecstasy the ending was cited as the loudest C major chord ever written. Yet today it is not regarded as uncomfortable, although it is extremely loud.” In contrast, orchestrally, Messaien’s Turangalîla Symphony is recognised as extremely loud and sustained, and can be quite uncomfortable if one is in front of the brass.
It helps to keep your jaw open in a relaxed position, producing a more comfortable, natural-fitting custom in-ear monitor. “A former conductor of these concerts used to advise us to put in earplugs when he did, towards the end of the 1812 Overture, because not only were you in an enclosed space but there was a choir, extra wind and military brass, a battery of muskets, and fireworks – a true spectacle that does nothing to encourage hearing comfort!” says Doust. The CBSO, and some other orchestras, are currently running a programme of “noise monitoring”. This means that staff try to get around all seats during rehearsal and concert with a data receiver, which should help to analyse which seats have more exposure. A particular difficulty for musicians is how much they need to play in order to survive financially and professionally. Some musicians are freelancers, working in different orchestras. Contract musicians will also sometimes play with other orchestras and ensembles in a freelance capacity.
Many musicians teach music or record music on top of performing. Musicians are not in a position to turn down work, because they need to be seen as reliable and not lose future opportunities. Musicians can also increase their noise exposure without meaning to, through common activities such as mowing the lawn or listening to an iPod on the Tube. So a player’s total exposure to loud noise in any given week can be quite high. Health and safety officials estimate that musicians need 14-18 hours’ rest after a period of high noise exposure, but this is rarely practical. I’m very happy with her professional practice and office. Descriptive analysis of the non-musician group revealed DPOAE measurements to show six of the 16 (38%) left ears with OHC dysfunction, and there were no significant findings at 4000 Hz.
But things are changing. In the last three years, students at the Royal Academy of Music have become much more aware of protecting their hearing, and every year the Academy sees an increasing number of students using ear plugs, says Nicola Mutton, the Academy’s Director of Artistic Planning. The Academy now gives all its new students audiometric tests and seminars on noise exposure, as well as offering a second test for students as they graduate. I also integrate some of the concepts developed by Feldenkrais and F.M. “Unfortunately, musicians are not as valued in our theatres”, says one musician from a well-known Russian orchestra, “and if someone has health problems, it’s easier to replace him with a young, rosy-cheeked musician who’s bursting with health and desperate for the work. Sometimes in the pit, you just have to stop playing and cover your ears with your hands. Sometimes you even do this in the concert hall, although you try to conceal yourself behind your music stand, so at least you’re not visible from the stalls seats and the conductor’s eyes don’t happen to find you,” he says.