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Noise and the Classical Musician


Copyright 2024, Mark Alan Wade

Primary Author: Mcbride, D.
Journal Title: British Medical Journal
Date Published: Dec-92
Language: English
Category: Hearing Loss
Key Words: hearing loss noise occupational instrumental musician orchestral
Full Citation: McBride, David, et al. Noise and the Classical Musician. British Medical Journal 305, no. 6868 (December 1992): 1561-63.
Full Abstract: From measurements of noise levels at five rehearsals with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, it is estimated that the high noise levels will result in approximately 15% of orchestral musicians losing 26dB or more at age sixty-five. The sum of the measurements are deceiving in that in the rehearsals where the level of noise was above the 90dB occupational exposure standard, the noise level was not sustained for a complete eight hour work day. This allows the high noise levels to pass inspection. However, these readings were taken from the front of the stage to absorb all of the instruments. It is highly likely that musicians sitting directly in front of loud instruments are at a far greater risk of hearing loss. Specifically, sound levels taken around horns, trumpets, and bassoons exceeded 90dB by at least 5dB. String players are at a lesser risk. In short, trumpet and piccolo players are exposed to levels of sound that exceed the safe maximum occupational sound exposure level. Low frequencies are less damaging than high frequencies. This accounts for the relatively lower risk factor for percussionists, as their loud instruments typically generate lower frequencies. The piccolo player, for example, is at a much greater risk. Brass instrumentalists, including trumpet players, are in a high-risk group, and strings are in the low-risk group. Coping strategies include offsetting louder works with softer pieces, and the use of Plexiglas baffles placed in front of trumpet players to shield the musicians in front without disrupting performances visually or audibly.