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The Blast of the Brass

The Blast of the Brass

A viola player with the Royal Opera House (ROH) has won an appeal of his claim against the ROH that he suffered permanent damage from acoustic shock. The Court of Appeal ruled that the ROH failed to take steps to protect the plaintiff from excessive noise levels. The ROH reportedly argued that the artistic value of the music produced by the orchestra meant that some hearing damage to musicians was inevitable and justifiable. Apparently not!

The injury to the Viola player occurred back in 2012, at a rehearsal of Wagner’s Die Walkure. The Violist was seated immediately in front of the brass section, with the bell of a trumpet immediately behind his right ear.

Acoustic shock is known to produce a number of symptoms including tinnitus, hyperacusis and dizziness. Apparently, exposure to noise levels exceeding 130 decibels is the threshold for acoustic shock. Good to know, but can this be applied to singers? Normal speech is around 50 decibels. A jackhammer operates at about 90 decibels. Believe it or not, a highly trained opera singer can come in at 100 decibels. Thankfully below the pain threshold for humans, which happens at about 120 decibels.

So, you need not fear the Sopranos, but beware the brass.

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