Saturday, April 19, 2008

Europe Deafens Noise Concerns

Europe has just enacted a law to limit the amount of damaging noise workers can be exposed to. 

This measure by rule, was enacted for construction workers and others where the noise is not necessarily under their control. But in musicians' cases, they are the ones making the noise. 

Health officials had two solutions but both were dismissed as improbable. The first was to ask conductors and composers to do softer pieces. The second was asking the players to wear ear plugs or decibel reducing devices. Neither side was happy with either suggestion. 

“It’s like saying to a racing-car driver that they have to wear a blindfold,” Alan Garner said, an oboist and English horn player who is the chairman of the players’ committee at the Royal Opera House

Another solution was so use sound reflecting panels especially in front of noisier sections like brass. The problem there is the brass players didn't like it; they said they felt almost ostracized. 

But some progress has been made. Most orchestras are now installing foam padding above the heads of the players to absorb some of the damaging decibels. Some groups are even trying rotating the players to sit in different sections to limit hearing loss. 

Scientists are working with musicians on decibel-reducing devices that both sides will enjoy. Conductors are being asked not to go for the "big and loud" orchestra styles and to consider they are working with humans, not machines.