A good friend (and, full disclosure, cousin*) of mine, Benjamin Kanters, recently told me about work he and others are doing to try to help musicians avoid hearing loss. I had not realized the extent of this problem, but it is a big deal, and the story has been around for a while. It is not just hard rock musicians. A quick web search, for example, turns up this paper:
A 1981 study at Sweden's Concert Hall and Lyric Theatre in Gothenberg revealed that 59 out of 139 orchestra musicians (42%) had hearing losses greater than that expected for their ages.
Here is another:
AFTER 40 years of being seated near the braying brass section in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, first violinist Fred Spector was struck with a potentially career-ending occupational disability when he couldn't hear the violins on his left. The 71-year-old musician, who began playing at the age of 4, says over the telephone, "Believe it or not, I am having trouble hearing you."
And here is a more recent story:
Pete Townsend, the force behind The Who and 07 Tony award-winner for the Broadway adaptation of Townsend's rock opera, Tommy, has gone public about his hearing loss on several occasions. . . . Today, an older, wiser and deafer Townsend has worked to warn up-and-comers about the seriousness of sound-induced hearing loss. But its a tough sell to a demographic that believes its better to burn out than fade away.
My cousin has started an organization to spread the word and conducts workshops around the country on the topic. He was here in Boston recently presenting at a couple of the local music schools. Of course, he is not alone. The National Hearing Conservation Association comprises a diverse membership, all dedicated to the cause of promoting hearing health.
Meanwhile, too, there are equipment vendors who are making musicians' earplugs and in-ear monitors. I don't here endorse any, but here is one sample and here is another. By combining solid state circuitry with a custom-fitted ear plug, the sound distortion is reduced while providing protection to the delicate parts of the ear.
So whether you or your kids play in orchestras or rock groups, or are involved in recording them or managing their concerts, it is worthwhile to give some thought to protecting this sensitive part of the body.
* I share no financial interests with this person. We don't even give each other birthday presents!