If you’ve ever played in a band you know that it gets loud when you play whether you like it or not. Regardless of if you’re on stage or in rehearsal, drums and amps are sometimes blaring with the sound bouncing all over the room, and if you don’t wear ear protection it’s common to leave with your ears ringing. And that’s the thing, we associate hearing loss in a musical setting with rock/pop bands, but the fact of the matter is that orchestral players have more incidences of sonic imparement than electric musicians.
Even if it happens to someone in a band, they usually don’t have anyone to sue, but that’s exactly what happened to viola player Chris Goldscheider in the Royal Opera House orchestra in London. He sued the ROH over his lost hearing, and won. As a result, for the first time “acoustic shock” has been recognized as a condition which can be compensated by a court and the implications are widespread for orchestral players everywhere.
Goldscheider was seated directly in front of the brass section of the orchestra for a rehearsal of Wagner’s opera Die Walkure in the pit at the Royal Opera House in 2012 where the level at his seat was measured at 130dB SPL. He was forced to leave the orchestra because of his condition in 2014, and now claims that his life has been forever altered as a result.
According the charity for professional musicians Help Musicians UK, “The unfortunate circumstances surrounding Chris’s tragic hearing loss reflect a growing number of hearing related issues, as highlighted in our 2015 hearing survey, where 59.5% of musicians said they had suffered hearing loss and 78% said working as a musician was a contributor to their hearing loss.”
Those are staggering numbers that are backed up by what I’ve been told in the past by scientists at Etymotic Research, the company that makes some excellent professional (and fairly inexpensive) hearing protection devices.
Damages for Goldscheider have not yet been assigned, but you can be that orchestral musicians and orchestras everywhere have taken note. You can be sure that hearing protection will be worn a lot more in the future.