"I'm going to be deaf after this gig!"
I've heard fellow orchestral musicians say it, when they have to sit in front of the drums, or with a trumpet bell in their ear, or right next to the piccolo, or in front of an amplification system for a pops gig.
I thought I'd make this the weekend vote, so here is the vote, and I'll discuss the topic at length below.
I no longer laugh over the idea that "this gig is making me deaf." Over a lifetime, musicians actually do experience hearing loss because of exposure to loud noise, and protecting one's hearing becomes very important.
For me, pops concerts have been the biggest culprit. They are often outdoors, or in large arenas, and they are often amplified. Many, many times, I've emerged from performances of pops concerts feeling almost nauseated by the pain in my ears. It's not just the ringing -- though it is that -- but it can also cause physical pain. Using conventional earplugs can mitigate the damage, for sure. The problem is that you can't hear yourself with any clarity, as they simply block out noise, and what does come through is full of fuzz. One feels like an artist who is painting while blindfolded! Thus, sometimes I would plug just one ear, or I'd give up and take them out, just so I could hear myself play. The result was still the ringing headache.
About five years ago I spoke about my concerns to a doctor, and I decided to invest in some physician-made earplugs. There are a number of kinds of earplugs for musicians; the kind that I have are by a company called Etymotic and can be found here. They were developed specifically for musicians in the Chicago Symphony, by a doctor named Mead Killion, who also just so happens to be an amateur violinist! So they serve the orchestral musician quite well. What they do is attenuate the sound, so you hear all the same things, just a lot softer. They must be fitted to your ear specifically, as they fit in there like a hearing aide, but happily enough, the Etymotic site has a dealer locator service to help people find a physician in their area.
My earplugs were put to the test last night, when I played in a very fun, but loud and highly amplified pops concert. Lately I'd already been feeling sensitivity in my ears because of mild allergies (it's high-pollen spring here in Southern California, even if it's still frigid in so many places!). So I felt it was especially important to protect my ears. I wore the earplugs for both the rehearsal and the concert, and I found that I was able to hear myself clearly, if very softly. After the concert, I did not feel the effects of having played in an amplified pops concert -- no headache, very little ringing. The only thing I felt was the slight discomfort of having a foreign object in my ear, but that goes away right after taking them out.
So that's my earplug story. What are your experiences with loud concerts and protecting your ears? Does anyone have other experiences, strategies or products to recommend? It is important that we all protect our hearing!Tweet
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