… at least according to the BBC:
The BBC has published a report warning the musicians in its five orchestras that they are at risk from damaging their hearing. The 48-page report, written by the BBC’s safety manager, includes a number of recommendations for players who want to protect themselves against noise while rehearsing or performing.
Using earplugs and sitting further apart are two of the suggestions. Players are also told to consider chewing gum to avoid a clenched jaw, which can exacerbate symptoms of tinnitus, although the report concedes that chewing gum ‘may not be appropriate on stage’.
Violinists and violists are specifically told that they need to be protected from the piccolo and the brass, and cellists and bassists also need protection if they sit too close to the trumpets.
The report also looks beyond hearing damage to other risks associated with playing in an orchestra, such as higher stress levels. ‘The sound of your colleagues’ instruments may well contribute to increased stress levels,’ it says, adding that ‘the adrenaline rush you thrive on in performance can turn under certain circumstances to unhealthy stress that is associated with raised blood pressure, compromised immunity and changes to metabolism’.
No word on the relative effectiveness of these recommendations versus chewing ear plugs and putting gum in one’s ears…
Joking aside, I take this issue far more seriously than I did when I first started full-time in a big orchestra (most of my career prior to the age of 35 was spent in a chamber orchestra and a quartet). As a consequence, my hearing does not seem to be getting worse, although I believe there was some deterioration in my first few years here, due to 1) being closer to the winds than I am now; and 2) never wearing plugs. I find now that I can wear a plug in the right ear and get most of the benefits, although that’s largely because I sit in the front circle and at least a 45-degree angle offset from facing directly forward.
There are rare occasions when I sit in the back (usually due to being unable to do a complete run of a concert series; it works better for everyone if the assistant principal sits 1st chair in that situation). I’m always shocked by just how much louder it is in the back of the section.