Violist sues Royal Opera House for loss of hearing

Violist sues Royal Opera House for loss of hearing


norman lebrecht

April 01, 2016

Chris Goldscheider, a viola player in the Covent Garden orchestra, claims his hearing was ‘irreversibly damaged’ by brass instruments that played behind him during performances of Wagner’s Die Walküre.

Chris, who played in the Liverpool Phil and the BBC Symphony before joining the ROH in 2002, argues in court documents that the sound peaked at 137 decibels, causing  ‘an immediate and permanent traumatic threshold shift’.

The ROH denies responsibility.

Chris’s lawyer is seeking a precedential court ruling. He says: ‘Essentially what is being said is that the beautiful artistic output justifies damaging the hearing of the musicians performing it. That’s never been tested by the courts.’

BBC story here.

chris goldscheider

screen-grab photo: BBC



  • Peter says:

    So he has the audacity to carry and use a sound level meter, but not simple earplugs? I guess he has a case, if the ROH does not provide any protection.
    A smart person would use protection anyway… Hold the viola jokes, everybody!

    • Stephen says:

      Simple earplugs would be totally insuffient eor a noise level of 137 decibels. Only ear defenders of the type worn by airport workers would be effective.

      • Ron Tree says:

        This is a very good point. Ask musicians and they’ll refuse to wear such defenders, unless for short periods of extreme noise.

        So what happens now? Orchestras have to play quieter? Or will this be the floodgates opening to historic cases that will financially ruin orchestras and leave them unable to programme certain repertoire.

        The responsibility starts with the musician. The end.

        • Halldor says:

          The responsibility does not solely start with the musician. Loud noise is a hazard; employers that require employees to work in hazardous situations have a duty of care, and a legal responsibility to protect their staff. Basic Heath and Safety law. Hearing damage to professional musicians is an extremely serious issue, and all professional orchestras have policies in place to address it. If those policies fail and damage occurs, there is unquestionably a case to be answered.

          He mentions elsewhere that he used earplugs and that they were insufficient – which is wholly credible, if you’ve read the research on the subject (as very few of the commentators here appear to have done). This is a good place to start:

  • Jaybuyer says:

    And I thought this had something to do with today’s date. …

    • Jaybuyer says:

      Sorry, this story seems quite genuine. Chris’s son Ben has already been in the news as a first class horn player.

  • Ron Trey says:

    It’s sad to see this day is here. Like other pit orchestra’s the ROH takes the hearing of its players seriously. In fact, I’m surprised the first case of this type is against an orchestra whose hearing testing and access to ear defenders is so robust.

    Before any ‘management bashing’ starts on these pages, here is some food for thought:

    How many players who have access to ear plugs choose not to wear them? It’s understandable that players don’t like how it limits their ability to hear their own sound and tuning, but can one blame the management for that?

    How do you assess what other work players do outside their ‘main’ job? In my experience, players are much more likely to ask for noise readings, screens and ear plugs in their contract jobs. When they are booked for a one off date, they’ll put up with far more and not say a word. 99% of musicians will do work outside their contract job, so how can ROH be held solely responsible without laying blame at the door of freelance work.

    This will be an interesting case. I’d imagine it will mean that rather than offering hearing protection, management will have to start enforcing all players wear earplugs at all times. I for one wouldn’t be happy playing in those conditions.

    • Halldor says:

      Indeed: very valid points. I’m aware of one player in a major orchestra which had robust noise protection policies in place – but who was bullied by their fellow section members into accepting unsafe practices, and as a consequence has suffered permanent hearing loss, to the extent that they now have to wear a hearing aid (they’re still only in their 40s). Management was certainly culpable there – but so too were the musicians, and the culture they created within their section.

      I’m staggered that some other people on here seem to think that the business of protecting employees from permanent, disabling injury is in any way comical. Incredibly, this attitude still persists amongst some musicians themselves: and this is a huge part of the problem. In a world as hierarchical as an orchestra, it’s easy for the prejudices of an ill-informed (and irresponsible) minority to make players feel that using sensible hearing protection carries some sort of stigma – especially when these people are long-serving section leaders, committee members etc.

  • cherrera says:

    Occupational hazards are very real, in every field, whether it’s in the arts or on a construction site. Employees have a right to a safe working environment.

    Wagner did not invent the opera pit with health concerns in mind, but we still need to meet 21st century occupational health and safety standards.

    One solution is to minimize the repeated exposure of any single employee, for instance, by hiring more musicians and rotating them through performances.

    Of course it costs more, but a society must make choices as to what is important: better worker safety or cheaper opera tickets, healthier employees or happier consumers…

    As it is, the performing arts hardly pay enough for a decent living wage, much less the lifetime loss of hearing.

    • Anon says:

      Performing arts as a whole maybe not; but the ROH, FYI, is the best paid orchestra in the UK; not only the highest salary per member, but the lowest number of services too, thus making them even better off compared to their symphony orchestra counterparts.

  • Stephen says:

    Earplugs would not provide sufficient protection against 137 decibels. Only ear defenders of the sort worn by airport workers would do that.

    • Anon says:

      Not true. 137 PEAK level is not 137 dB continuous level, far from it. Ear plugs would give about 20 dB for mid to high frequencies reduction. For those not knowing, dB is a logarithmic unit. 20 dB less is a 90% reduction in level.
      Earplugs would give good protection here. Problem is, that they also reduce the level of your own instrument.

      • Gerhard says:

        You cannot use 20 dB earplugs in an orchestra, because you just can’t hear enough with them to be able to play. In my experience and in that of many orchestra colleagues who use ear protection, the workable maximum is 9 dB. They help a lot, but they need to get used to, and they can’t provide sufficient protection if you are exposed to peaks above 110 dB. There are other measures like protective shields, sound absorbers and above all simply more space between the source of the sound and the ear, but all of these are more costly and often more difficult to organize than individual ear protection. Therefore employers tend to just not provide them. Maybe such a suit could change this.

        • Anon says:

          Earplugs need not be worn for the duration of a performance. Since we are talking here about music which is played from a set score, it is known far in advance where the most likely peak moments of level are. It should be possible to insert earplug around these moments only. (That could mean re-paginating some parts to allow time for this, but since players are quite able to stop playing for a moment to turn a page with no ill-effect on the music, it should equally be possible to arrange things so that it is possible to stop playing momentarily to insert an earplug)

        • Marie Vanier says:

          As an opera musician myself and suffering tremendously in Wagner operas I bought the professional earplugs Etymotic and they really do a very god job. In pp you hear yourself better and when the decibels go up you are protected with them.

        • Andrey says:

          I played in a 20DB earplugs in a top professional orchestra, no question asked, no problem with hearing. You just have to know where is the loudest bit.

          (this is not to say I don’t feel sorry for the dude)

      • Stephen says:

        I can only say that my experience of using ear defenders and custom fitted earplugs comes down much in favour of the former.

  • Maria Brewin says:

    I’d be interested to hear some solid scientific/medical evidence. As I understand it, only sustained exposure to high sound levels is likely to cause permanent damage. By sustained, I mean daily industrial noise or relentlessly loud rock music through years of live performance or from monitoring speakers in a recording studio. I also understand that headphones and earpieces can have the same effect due to the close coupling between diaphragm and eardrum. I would not even regard Wagner as “sustained” by comparison.

    Furthermore, I believe that perceived loudness is not a reliable measure of the energy generated. If my memory serves, a sine wave is far more damaging than the complex sound produced by an acoustic instrument at a similar “volume”.

    Hearing deteriorates naturally over time. It must vary from profession to profession. I doubt if librarians have a problem but, within reason, there must be a limit to the extent to which an employer can be held responsible.

    • Stephen says:

      120 decibels is the pain threshold. Above that level hearing damage can occur within a few minutes. An explosion of that amplitude will cause instant damage. A baby can bawl at up to 115 dB; this is enough to cause his mother hearing damage in 15 minutes if she is sitting 1 meter away. The ear can withstand a level of 85 dB over a period of 8 hours in the case of someone with good hearing and no tinnitus.

    • Alexander says:

      I’m not sure whether this is true. I know one of the men involved in firing the 19-gun salute at the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. As I understand it, his later suffering from tinnitus has been attributed to this exposure to extremely loud noise over a very brief period of time.

      • Stephen says:

        That was just my point: gunfire is, by definition, an explosion and well above the pain threshold. In such a case, hearing damage would have been instantaneous and in most cases would have led to tinnitus.

        • Alexander says:

          Sorry, this website is not always the easiest to comment on. When I said, “I’m not sure whether this is true”, I meant Maria Brewin’s comment, not your undoubtedly accurate response to it. Apologies for the confusion.

      • Maria Brewin says:

        “I know one of the men involved in firing the 19-gun salute”

        Well yes, obviously there are limits. It has been known for a long time that the shockwave from the much larger guns mounted on WW2 warships was potentially lethal. I suspect that the damage inflicted by a low frequency shockwave is very different to the issue here.

    • Halldor says:

      It’s not just about volume – proximity to a piccolo can be more damaging than timpani. And it’s not just about sustained exposure: one-off blasts of sound can do permanent damage. Just because those sounds have been written by a composer we happen to like, they’re no less damaging. I’m staggered that some people here appear to think this is a joke.

      There’s been substantial research into noise damage in orchestras for well over a decade now and its clear that the risk is real. All professional orchestras take it extremely seriously. When the measures put in place to protect a player’s hearing fail, it’s as serious a matter as any other disabling injury in the workplace, and the law is clear about the employer’s responsibility (and the employee’s). Please, before propagating potentially damaging myths, read some of the research – this is a good place to start and the report that preceded it has been readily available for several years:

      • Stephen says:

        Yes, there are other factors besides noise level involved. Very high pitched sounds are more dangerous than low-pitched ones because the hair cells in the cochlea which pick up the high sounds in the inner ear are closer to the eardrum.

      • Maria Brewin says:

        “before propagating potentially damaging myths, read some of the research”

        I’m not “propagating” anything; I made it clear that I was expressing my own opinions and impressions, nothing more. Perhaps my own information is a little old, but then over the years I’ve seen many reports on a variety of subjects come and go.

        Point people in what you see as the right direction by all means, but cut the self righteous arrogance.

        I still maintain that amplified music can be more damaging. Unless the amplification is exceptionally clean and not overdriven, the signal will be compressed by the amplifier and the clipping waveform will generate additional harmonics. This could deliver to the speakers considerably more continuous power that was available before clipping set in, with obvious results.

        It would appear that hearing loss can be caused by a wide range of activity, including the musician’s own weapon of choice. If a piccolo can be a problem, to use your example, there is probably a limit to what can be achieved.

        And perhaps we can all inform ourselves a little more, Halldor. Even you.

    • Bruce says:

      Maria – ever spent an opera sitting in front of a trombone section? How about a combined trumpet & trombone section? That’s where violists normally sit.

      • Maria Brewin says:

        So where did Mr Goldscheider expect to be seated?

        Ballet dancers develop far more serious problems. The Royal Ballet had better watch out.

        • Halldor says:

          Astonishing callousness. The issue is real, no employee should be required to sit in a position that damages their health, and any responsible orchestral employer has a range of measures in place – ranging from hearing protection devices to staging and seating rotation systems – to limit the risk, and prevent it ever reaching the point it seems to have reached with this player. The ROH is usually extremely thorough about this: if it’s failed, and injury has occurred, there is clearly a case to answer.

          There’s something deeply unpleasant, as well as misguided, about this attitude (and more than one of the commenters here has displayed it) of ‘so they’ve damaged their hearing. Tough, comes with the territory’. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. Simple as that. Arrogant of me to say so? Fine. This happened to my friends and colleagues. People feel strongly about it, and rightly.

          • Maria Brewin says:

            No response to my point on ballet dancers then, just more virtue signalling?

          • Gerhard says:

            To Ms. Brewin: It is true, ballet dancers run high risks of physical damages as well. In their case the cause is mostly overstrain and overuse of their own motoric apparatus, but rarely the consequence of fellow dancers doing their work. More ballet companies than orchestras also offer help like physiotherapy to avoid damages. But if any company would be at fault for not taking the preventive measures one could expect them to take, suing them would be quite as justified in my opinion.
            Otherwise, my sentiments towards the attitude you show in your comments above are not much different than Halldor’s.

          • Bruce says:

            ^ What Gerhard said. There is a difference between self-inflicted injuries (e.g. your ballet dancer scenario — also very common among musicians) and injuries inflicted as a result of others simply doing their jobs (the ROH scenario).

            The main difference is that with the self-inflicted kind, a performer can have some control over his or her risk: for example, they can relearn or refine their technique or revise their practice habits. Movements can be practiced carefully to reduce stress on muscles & joints; muscles & joints can be strengthened.

            None of this is true for ears. You can’t make your ears stronger by carefully exposing them to gradually louder & louder noises.

            Maybe you should have used airport runway workers or jackhammer operators as your examples rather than ballet dancers.

        • Nanci Severance says:

          As a violist in a major orchestra in the US for over 30 years I can say that you have no idea how loud it can be sitting in front of the brass section. It is even more brutal in the pit when there is much less room to manuever and try to avoid the brunt of the sound. Sound levels have not been taken seriously as a hazard until the past few years and there is still along way to go. Musicians are made to feel like they should just suffer in silence and tough it out when over time they develope tinnitus and are losing hearing even when using earplugs and plexiglass shields. If this lawsuit helps to get orchestras to see that this is a serious problem then Mr Goldscheider will have turned a horrible situation into something positive for musicians. I am so sorry for his pain and misfortune.

      • Marie Vanier says:

        Bravo! I also sit there.
        Unless one has to sit there day after day, one can’t imagine how damaging it is. And we can’t blame the brass musicians, they are payed to play the dynamics!

  • Gary Carpenter says:

    I wondered what the decibel level would have been at the Kylie Minogue gig he played.

    • Bruce says:

      The difference with a gig like that is that it doesn’t matter how you sound.

    • Soundpost says:

      In a huge arena with space for the sound to escape, with individually volume controlled in ear monitors – a whole lot less!

      The pit is essentially a small closed box.

      The majority of the amplification is pointed out to the audience. Open monitors on stage can be controlled. Plus playing backing strings for a Kylie song can be done with industrial ear defenders on.

  • herrera says:

    Playing conditions — for musicians or athletes — are often taken as “normal” because of centuries of practice: it’s normal that (American) football players bang their heads against opponents, and that musicians play in loud environments.

    But our consciousness is only beginning to be raised with regards to irreversible brain damage in professional athletes, as it is with irreversible hearing loss among (all) musicians.

    We are more conscious of the health concerns of the stagehands at the opera house than the pit musicians. Stagehands are paid more and have better targeted health coverage to their occupation than musicians (recall the recent headlines concerning the Carnegie Hall and Met stagehands who make more than the Chief Financial Officer etc).

    I don’t begrudge the unions that represent stagehands, we just need to be as conscious of the unique health concerns of musicians, and musician unions need to be as pro-active.

    • Ron Trey says:

      Firstly, in England, this isn’t true. Musicians are paid more than stage hands. Secondly, this issue has NOTHING to do with money and it clouds the water to bring that into the picture. Money doesn’t make this musician’s hearing better. A musician being paid more doesn’t mean they will take better care of their hearing.

      If it is about the money, then as you put it musicians would happily take a pay cut to enable even better hearing protection?? No. Thought not,.

      • Bruce says:

        I understood herrera’s comment about money (and, more importantly, health care plans) as an indication of how the stage hands’ union does a better job taking care of their members than the musicians’ union does taking care of theirs, at the Met anyway.

  • James says:

    Noise induced vertigo that left him bed-ridden for three weeks? Not given enough training on ear defenders? Instruments louder because of new materials, although most classical musicians are playing older instruments? All other examples in the article cited being of hearing loss?

    I admit it’s considerably more cerebral than the average copy article on BBC/News but surely this has to be related to the date of publication.

    Remember; just because it was written online, it doesn’t mean it’s true!

    • Halldor says:

      Please, inform yourself. Read this:

    • bratschegirl says:

      Most “classical musicians” are not playing older instruments. Most classical string instrument players, yes. Wind, brass, and percussion players, no, although there is the occasional decades-old bassoon in use. Brass players in particular are known for constantly changing wardrobes of instruments for different kinds of music and/or venues, and are therefore the likeliest to be playing with the newest instrumental technology.

  • Andy says:

    Wonder why he chose to do this for a living. He wasn’t forced I hope.

    • Halldor says:

      What a callous comment. No contract of employment in the world requires an employee to accept crippling injury in the course of their work.

    • Bruce says:

      Andy – what do you do for a living? Whatever it is, I hope you weren’t forced into it.

      • Andy says:

        My employment is neither the topic nor the issue, is it? Nice try at deflection and obfuscation, Bruce.

        There are myriad employment opportunities. Mr. Goldscheider (apparently) made a choice.

        Callous, Halldor? Not a bit. Just a realistic observation. I didn’t even express an opinion.

        And here’s another. If I auditioned or interviewed for a job, got the job, and then was uncomfortable fulfilling the obligations thereof, I’d quit and find another job that wasn’t uncomfortable.

        A simple philosophy with no sense of entitlement.

        • Bruce says:

          Not trying to obfuscate or deflect, just commenting on your lack of empathy. True, it didn’t advance the conversation; honestly I didn’t expect that you’d respond since people on here often don’t.

          Anyway, protection against avoidable occupational hazards is not something that corporations (of whatever kind) have usually ever undertaken voluntarily. There usually has to be a legal finding of responsibility that forces the corporation to acknowledge its role in worker protection.

          Here’s an analogy with another occupation with associated risks: warehouse workers. Someone gets a job as a warehouse worker. He’s young, strong & healthy, and not afraid of hard work. In the old days, any injury he sustained while on the job would have been his own problem, and tough luck. Nowadays he’s given one of those weightlifting belt things and told to wear it while he works. He puts it on and hurts himself anyway, because no one taught him how to put the belt on properly, or the basics of body mechanics for lifting. When he (or his lawyer) tries to say that his employer should have trained him better, there is usually a faction of the public that agrees, and a faction that says he knew the risks and should take responsibility for his own actions. The employer, predictably, is in the latter camp, never mind their 25% workforce injury rate (mentioned in this article). Only by means of a lawsuit is a company likely to institute even 15- or 30-minute training sessions for new employees on how to avoid injury at work. Employee injury rates decrease, employee longevity increases, insurance claims drop… seems like a win-win, but the employer usually has to be dragged kicking & screaming into compliance.

          • Halldor says:

            Happily, in the UK at least, most orchesteal employers do take this issue very seriously, and have done for the last decade or so – which makes this case all the more troubling.

            As to Andy’s comments: the idea that any employee should simply accept as unavoidable injury inflicted in the course of their chosen profession – and that this constutes no more than feeling ‘uncomfortable’ – yes, I’m afraid I do find that callous. You should be able to do earn your livelihood without being exposed to avoidable harm, whatever your trade. You don’t simply lose basic rights and legal protections merely by dint of being a musician.

          • Andy says:

            Bruce, if you were commenting on my lack of empathy, or, to use Halldor’s favourite word, “callous” observations, then you went about it in a bewilderingly roundabout way. As did your follow-up post with the unrelated analogies. Why do we need analogies when the situation with Mr. Golscheider seems perfectly clear? “Andy, you lack empathy” would have done the trick. And would have been accurate.

            And Halldor, feverishly swatting away at anyone whose observations stray from the Musicians Union’s party line, spewing MU rhetoric, proclaiming you’re “staggered” and “astonished” that anyone might have the temerity to post comments without having more thoroughly researched the subject. Really? This is the Internet. This is the wild, wild west. Sometimes, occasionally, now and then, folks shoot from the hip. As, for example, when you attribute to me an argument I neither articulated nor implied. Or your sermon that all individuals should be able to earn their living without being exposed to avoidable harm. (I presume police officers, military personnel, crocodile hunters, etc are excepted from your utopia.)

            Mr. Golscheider chose to become an orchestral musician, sitting amidst scores of other musicians playing instruments several hours a day. Further, he chose to audition for an opera orchestra, performing in a pit – a more enclosed environment. When those trumpets were loudly rehearsing Wagner, he chose not to get up and leave either rehearsal.

            These were his choices. Perhaps I am callous and lack empathy for stating the obvious.

            Had I truly wanted to be callous, I could have written that he’s a poseur who’s looking for a cash grab retirement fund. I could have written he’s a weakling who lets his daddy defend him in a public forum. I could have written that viola strings vibrating an inch from his ear for 6 hours a day ever since he was 10 years old is a more realistic explanation for his predicament, if, indeed, his hearing and health has been compromised. Had I wanted to be callous.

            But I didn’t. I just thought your embroidery of my observations and commentary warranted a reply.

  • Fran says:

    Also chorus members who have to sing directly behind brass and percussion. Not fun and has had my ears ringing before long after performance

  • Larry W says:

    My condolences, Mr. Goldscheider, and best of luck to Chris. Just yesterday I was talking to a fellow violist who had played with the Chicago Lyric Opera for 50 years. She has suffered some hearing loss from brief decibel spikes, but did not pursue any legal remedies. As you described, the setup in the pit places some instruments at risk. The violas are in front of the brass and second violins are next to the piccolo. The problems start when conductors (or musicians) want a traditional concert seating arrangement in the pit. In the pit, there is not enough room for the sound to escape. (If you hit a steel drum, you hear one sound. Putting your head inside is quite another!) Compounding the problem is that all the musicians want to face the conductor, placing everyone in front of the loudest instruments in the line of fire. Pits need a row for the trumpets and trombones, separated by clear plexiglass down to the floor. Their sound would escape over the rest of the orchestra. The French horns could be directly in front of this wall, helping to direct their sound outward. Or, all strings left of center and all winds to the right. Creative solutions need to be developed before more careers are halted.

    • chicchaz says:

      These are excellent suggestions and solutions to arranging the orchestra in a pit. From an acoustics perspective, a pit is already compromised as compared to the stage, so I don’t envision Plexiglas divisions being much of an obstacle. For the stage, many orchestras employ Plexiglas shields behind sections to help defray the acoustic energy produced by brass and percussion instruments.

      Maybe now is a good opportunity to remind musicians to educate or re-educate themselves about hearing loss. The House Ear Institute is an excellent place to start at

    • Marg says:

      Obviously I’m missing something here. Why can’t the brass be seated so that they aren’t blasting into the ears of violists or anyone else for that matter? Why isn’t the plexiglass partial solution used?

  • James Davies says:

    On a separate note- I find it very depressing that the article describes career highlights of playing with the three tenors and KYLIE MINOGUE!! This man has worked in one of the finest opera houses in the world with a fabulous orchestra and word-class singers and conductors. Typically, the BBC is forced to dumb down to a British public who have no real relationship to classical music or opera. They have to reflect this mans real musical success through Kylie Minogue in order to give it some relevancy!

  • Graeme Hall says:

    Genuine (non trolling questions) that perhaps someone can answer for my own education:

    In a rehearsal would the brass always be playing at full pelt? Or would they be turned down for first run-throughs?

    I’m guessing the effect of the pit is a big part of the problem. Do opera orchestras always rehearse there or do they have other rehearsal spaces. I think, for example, at Opera North they use the Howard Assembly Room which I imagine is better (from this perspective).

    I increasingly see the plexiglass screens in the concert hall and they seem plain common-sense. Do they not get used in opera pits?

    • Larry W says:

      In answer to your very thoughtful questions:

      No, the brass do not always play full out. They can suffer injuries, too, but to lips and lungs.

      Rehearsals are in orchestra rehearsal rooms until the dress rehearsal. This minimizes the cost of stagehands, lighting, etc.

      There is much more room on a concert hall stage. Individual shields take up extra space, making them impractical in a pit, where space is very limited.

      • Nick says:

        For a new production and for many revivals, the orchestra will be in the pit several times prior to the dress rehearsal. Stage/orchestra rehearsals are a vital part of marrying the various elements of a production together.

        • Larry W says:

          The key word is new. Since it is far more expensive to rehearse in the hall, managements try to keep that to a minimum. But, if you have knowledge of such things, I am left to wonder how you could have written what you did (April 2 at 8:42 am), which was hardly supportive of fellow musicians. Most likely, you are not a professional musician, since you would only learn about hearing loss if you read about it.

    • Anon says:

      Plexiglass is not without its own issues, including reflecting sound back at the trumpeter (let’s say) who’s bell is pointing towards it, which may be as damaging for them as it would have been for the violist in front without the plexiglass. It may not always be a ‘solution’, but rather move the issue elsewhere.

      • Larry W says:

        While not much detail was offered above, the thought was that the plexiglass would angle forward, with the height and angle to be determined. The back of an orchestra pit is usually lower. The trumpets and trombones would be seated single-file at the back of the pit. Wood blocks could be placed in the front legs so the players are angled slightly up. This would facilitate seeing the conductor and also breathing. (Cellists use these blocks on the back legs of chairs to lean slightly forward.) It is best to remain open to solutions to a serious problem.

    • Bruce says:

      I have plenty of experience as a member of a “regular” symphony orchestra as well as a smaller opera orchestra. In my personal “regular” orchestra experience, the brass do indeed always seem to play at full volume. We have small plexiglass “head-protectors,” mounted on music-stand bases, used by whoever sits in front of the brass or piccolo (and sometimes percussion). In the opera orchestra (small theater with a small, cramped orchestra pit), the conductors usually keep the volume down so the singers can be heard.

  • soundpost says:

    In rehearsal brass would be playing as they see fit: at a forte they will be playing loud. Brass players do not come with volume knobs so you can turn them down. Conductors often ask for them to balance and play less, this rarely has any lasting effect.

    Yes, ROH use larger rehearsal spaces. Unfortunately this is also used as a time to test out pit layout so despite the huge space, the orchestra may be cramped into pit conditions – the result is much the same.

    Yes, acoustic screens are used in pits – both ones that absorb and dampen the sound (less than ideal for obvious reasons) and also ones that shield. These present difficulties as they reflect the sound back to the player behind them – in close quarters, such as the pit, this then becomes uncomfortable for the player.

  • Sean Bishop says:

    Not so long ago, the ROH was all done up , new everything!
    Maybe the Pits of Opera Houses need re jigging?
    Why can’t the Brass be on taller risers and the strings perhaps sunken deeper into the pit?
    Just thinking out loud…..

    • Larry W says:

      Sean, orchestra pits angle down towards the back, and the rear half is covered by the stage. For balance, the brass are seated in the back. The strings are higher for clarity and balance. If there is not enough space or budget, the strings are reduced since all individually written wind parts must be played. This often results in physical injuries.

  • ANDREW LAING says:

    ´´´´but the ROH, FYI, is the best paid orchestra in the UK; not only the highest salary per member, but the lowest number of services too, thus making them even better off compared to their symphony orchestra counterparts.

    That’s very interesting. Do you know what the rank and file salary might be ?

  • bratschegirl says:

    I am so very sorry for your son’s awful experience, Mr Goldscheider. Please convey to him a fellow violist’s heartfelt wish that he recover swiftly and fully. I have a colleague who has experienced something similar, and has been able to use various means to continue as an orchestral player. It is of the utmost importance that Chris get the best advice and assistance as soon as possible. Feel free to email me at 1bratschegirl at gmail dot com if you would like me to make an online introduction to my colleague.

  • Nick says:

    There’s something in this whole discussion that I just “don’t get!” I have played in an orchestra and I have attended innumerable concerts and operas over the years. I have also read quite a bit about damage to hearing, a condition that has occasionally – just occasionally – hit the headlines when a pop singer like Pete Townshend of The Who was a victim. At first he and some in the medical profession blamed that on his being on stage night after night too close to loudspeakers constantly blasting out sound at well above 135db. Later, though, all came to the conclusion that it was not the ‘live’ performances which had damaged his hearing – it was persistently listening to music at too high a level on headphones. Since then there have been many warnings by the medical professional about this type of damage, especially amongst younger people who consistently listen at far too high a volume – if only to drown out other regular daily sounds.

    I am indeed sorry for Mr. Goldscheider. But I suspect the lawyers are going to have a field day with this case if ever gets as far as court. Did Mr. Goldscheider use headphones outside his work? At what level? How often? Can all that be proved? Then there is the issue of precedence. How many orchestras in the world? How many opera orchestras? How many previous reported cases? How many previously unreported cases that will now come to light?

    Then there is the specific point about the damage having been caused in one particular opera – Die Walküre. Was this part of a Ring cycle? If so, does not Götterdämmerung have more and longer sustained fortissimo brass passages? What about other operas? What about his experiences with the other orchestras? Could permanent damage have built up over a period of time rather than in a single performance or series of performances.

    And then of course the lawyers will make issue of his outside work including, I understand, pop sessions – presumably in small studios where the ‘live’ sound could perhaps seem even more deafening at the time?

    To have one’s livelihood taken away at a relatively young age for what is alleged to be improper work practices re safety and heath is appalling. However, that certainly remains to be proved. And I fear proof may be very, very difficult.

    • Larry W says:

      How good of you to present so many arguments in favor of the Royal Opera House. As a player, how about doing the same for those suffering work-related hearing loss?

      • Nick says:

        Maybe I have just missed earlier articles and medical treatises, but I have never heard of this condition in relation to the performance of classical music before. Lots of articles on posture and the Alexander technique, for example, but nothing on what is immediate hearing loss.

        • Andrey says:

          Alexander technique is a pile of unscientific bullshit. Hearing loss, however, is real, I’m not saying – in this case, but every doctor would say the kind of levels of noise that were measured can lead to a hearing loss.

  • Stephen says:

    The British Tinnitus Clinic in Harley Street has several options on offer. It’s worth consulting their website for detailed information.

  • Claire says:

    Sir, I was very sorry to hear of your son’s situation. I am only an amateur viola player, but I suffer from similar hearing problems (in my case not attributable to any particular cause) and I have experienced similar problems in orchestra. I have recently discovered the Here Active Listening system, ear plugs which allow the user to adjust live sound, as you might on a stereo or soundboard. They have transformed things for me, perhaps they may be of some help to your son? I am not affiliated to this company in any way, and speak only from my own experience

  • Stephen says:

    A very important point: a hearing traumatism should always be treated as an emergency. The sufferer should get to a doctor’s or hospital within 24 hours – no later.

    • Anna says:

      Stephen, I agree. They also need to rest from noise afterwards to allow for recovery. However people who suffer noise injuries need to be taken more seriously by their doctors – many doctors have a lot to learn about noise injuries and the hyperacusis that is described in this news article.

      Generally there needs to be greater awareness of the seriousness and implications of noise injuries – not only can too much noise cause hearing loss and tinnitus, but it can also cause hyperacusis, a condition where everyday sound is physically painful to hear. Fundamentally greater protection from noise in the first place is crucial.

      Noise injuries really can cause vertigo, pain when experiencing sound to the point that your babies cry or your children’s voices cause you physical pain in the ear and you have to leave the room, and it hurts your ears just to travel in a car. I have to live with similar noise injuries from those described in this article. They really can change your life to the point that you can’t work any more and your previous life changes beyond recognition, so I urge people to protect themselves from loud noises.

  • Martin B says:

    Our (amateur) orchestra purchased six of these: recently. They’re absolutely fantastic. They reduce brass (or pic) dB to an acceptable level for the winds (or violas!) without interfering with the overall sound picture or distorting the players’ own sound – which is the main problem with ear plugs for wind players.