Breaking: Pianist will NOT go to jail for noise pollution

Breaking: Pianist will NOT go to jail for noise pollution


norman lebrecht

November 16, 2013

Popular media have been running a scare story that a Spanish pianist ‘might’ go to jail for inflicting noise pollution on a neighbour with excessive practising.

At today’s court session in Gerona, the prosecution lowered its sentence demand from 7 1/2 years to 20 months. Since Laia Martin has no previous criminal record, she cannot go to jail under Spanish law if the sentence is less than two years – even if she is convicted of the offence.

The court has retired to consider its verdict. Read an account in El Pais, just in.

End of story.

pianist jail


  • I suppose the verdict might depend on whether she had been practising sonatas by Mozart or Boulez all day. 🙂

    As to hours spent practising, it is documented (somewhere) that Chopin told his students that anything over 3 hours a day was a waste of time and even harmful to the nerves. Anything over 4 hours a day certainly leaves no room for anything else much in life (except perhaps for eating and sleeping), and claims of practising 10 hours daily (or even 14 hours, from certain pianists best left unnamed) are mostly laughable IMHO.

    But it is a big problem in general for practising musicians who live in Europe; at least in Germany and Switzerland, those living in apartment flats built with substandard soundproofing in the floors and walls can count themselves lucky if they manage to get away with more than an hour or so per diem. It is a big problem for students who cannot afford to pay more than a modest monthly sum for rent.

    • Phil says:

      Often when people say they practise X hours a day, it means they’re ‘thinking about it’ during that time, or that they do that amount of practise ‘some days’ (not every day, maybe even only 3 or 4 days). It probably doesn’t even mean time spent actually sat there playing and concentrating, and they probably don’t include little breaks. I think 5 hours of true practise is about the limit for anybody, and even this assumes a lifestyle of a full-time performer making ends meet from only performing. Chopin had it exactly right: 3 hours of ‘real’ practise is a very substantial regime, and very draining. I used to average (in real terms) 4-5 hours per day as a student. I wish I had done less (and better quality),and lived more. If this lady, Laia Martin, really has been doing 5-8 hours every day (as I’ve read elsewhere – it’s an old case), my advice to her is simple: get a life.

      • Phil–your advice to the pianist to “get a life” is good. Now the woman bringing this young musician to court ought to get one of her own. This lawsuit is frivolous!

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Maybe she really banged around on the piano for endless hours every day (or “5 days a week”). That can be seriously annoying for neighbors. Maybe the neighbor is just overly sensitive. Maybe there are other elements to this feud that have nothing to do with that. But – I don’t know. I don’t know enough to judge what really happened there.

          Do you?

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        I am sure she will appreciate your advice. Do you also have tips for her for what to eat and drink, what books she should read, what movies she should watch?

        • Phil says:

          @Michael. Well, that’s for her to find out for herself, isn’t it? If she can’t, then therein lays her problem. @Lloyd. The lawsuit was maybe frivolous, maybe not. If you’ve got the sound of piano coming through your walls most of the day round, and if you’re not a music lover (even if you are!) and nobody will do anything about, it could be pretty upsetting..

  • What a relief. BTW, there is an asymmetrical nomenclature going on whenever we talk about “noise pollution,” that indicates we take for granted more such pollution than we usually consider. The term “noise pollution” is redundant and misleading.

    A pollution is of an undesirable quantity within a desirable medium. Neither “noise” nor “pollution” refers to the medium we want to keep clean. We talk about air pollution, which is clean air with dirt in it; about water pollution, which is clean water with schmutz in it. But there is so much pollution with noise that we don’t refer to that type of pollution in an appropriate way. We should call it “silence pollution.” Noise is silence with sonic schmutz in it. We are so inured to the pollution of silence that even its nomenclature is wrong. The term should be “silence pollution.” But the violators of silence actually believe they are within their rights to do what they do.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      So “lead poisoning” means “lead that is poisoned”, not “poisoned by lead”?

    • Peter says:

      Interesting aside @Christopher. You suggest that “something pollution” refers to the polluted not the pollutant. However it is relatively easy to find references to Diesel Exhaust Pollution, Dust Pollution and Smoke Pollution, to name but a few, so I think common practice has established “polltion by…” as well as “pollution of…” to be alterate meanings. However inelegant.

      • If we are going to use usage as a standard it still seems to me that by far the commonest usage is of the terms “air pollution” and “water pollution” and that they establish a model of the thing polluted being the referent. This also has the advantage of putting the pure state of a thing more forward in the mind.

        Alas, appeals to grammar won’t make it onto the lips of the hoi palloi.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          “Alas, appeals to grammar won’t make it onto the lips of the hoi palloi.”

          Dude, it’s called “hoi polloi”, not “palloi”.

          Few things crack me up as much as people who try to be extra smart and then just end up shooting themselves in the foot.

          • Misspelling a word is not to shoot one’s self in the foot. If you don’t have something more substantial to comment on than that, you really do reveal yourself as very petty indeed. Like most blogs this one has a component from various anti-intellectual disaster zones, and you are part of that anti-intellectual component. I do believe this criticism is more serious than your observation that I once misspelled a word.

          • Derek Castle says:

            And I’m sure you would agree, MS, that ‘the’ hoi polloi is tautologous. 60 years ago, our teacher told us not to use the article ‘the’, as hoi polloi already means ‘the many, the rabble’. But CF (PhD or not) belongs to those hypersensitive posters who can’t stand being corrected – or simply don’t re-read their comments to check for typos. It appears attempting to use correct English is seen as being ‘petty’ and ‘vindictive’. Our local government is even considering abandoning the apostrophe on official material, as it’s “too confusing”, schools no longer consider spelling a criterion when marking essays (they are just pleased that students can use a pen).

    • Derek Castle says:

      Last year, while travelling on a bus, I perhaps rather foolishly suggested that a young man might like to show some consideration for others and turn down his ‘music’. I received a torrent of abuse and threats of physical violence. How dare I interfere with his right to do as he liked in a public space?

  • Beaumont says:

    RE Lloyd-Arriola:

    No, this lawsuit certainly is not frivolous. I love music, own tons of CDs, go to the opera, etc etc etc HOWEVER, if a musicisn were praticing hours a day in the flat above/below/next to mine I would certainly sue. This is noise pollution, irrespective whether it is Boulez or Mozart you are practicing. A DJ can also not practice his routine at home, nor can joiners or welders.

    Not everybody appreciates music, and even those who do will not take kindly to a permadiet of runs and scales.

    Just because you are a musician does not mean that you are above house rules or common standards of respect for others.

    • Phil says:

      I completely agree, Beaumont, assuming the lady was indeed practising hours a day and making a substantial noise while doing it, which she almost certainly was if a fringe concert-pianist or wannabee. In my experience, the real accomplished concert pianists only actually practise for an hour or 2 each day. They do what’s necessary and no more. Any of them who practise more imo do it out of obsession, or neurotic attachment. In short, ‘addiction’. I repeat my earlier advice to Ms Martin: get a life.

  • robcat2075 says:

    I can imagine the plaintiffs side. Listening to music through a wall is a poor way to endure any music and what do you do if you want to be listening to your own choice of music instead?

    As far as students needing to practice… if they are at a responsible school they should enough have proper practice rooms available for their students’ needs.

  • I’m lucky. I live in a condo (apartment) building, and my neighbors frequently tell me that they like listening to me practice. They also say that they like listening to my students play. My real fan club is composed of the neighborhood kids. They say they like to listen to me practice because the music is gentle. I suppose that it is gentle when compared to the raucous stuff they get on the radio or ipod these days.

  • Michael Meltzer says:

    Pollution is incorrect, because no evidence of it remains. If anything, it was what we call “disturbing the peace,” and afterward, peace is restored. There is also no evidence

    of any disturbance except to one plaintiff, and it would seem that litigation would be so much more appropriate than criminal charges.

    Discussing the merits of either side outside the courtroom is usually not productive.

  • Michael says:

    I am a musician, and live in Spain as well. It mentions in the article that when her playing was measured in terms of sound, that it was 36.8db. It was also mentioned that the limit where she lives is 30db, which is a very low limit. Where I live, I can produce up to 40db of sound (music, or noise, call it whatever you want) during the day legally.(Every city has it’s own ordinance concerning noise). So if the piano player in question lived here, then the plaintiff would not have even had a case.

    Spain is noisy, and the buildings are poorly constructed. That being said, people don’t seem preoccupied with their own noise, but have little tolerance for everybody else’s noise. Since practicing music falls outside of what is considered normal noise (like screaming, children playing, high heels etc.), people can be especially intolerant.

  • Phillip Bush says:

    @RobertHairgrove, my guess would have been the complete Ustvolskaya Sonatas.