Royal Opera House loses appeal over viola player's hearing

Edited: April 17, 2019, 2:33 PM · This is an important UK Court of Appeal decision upholding a case brought by a violist against the ROH for loss of hearing, which could affect many of us (hopefully for the better). Here is the link:

Some pertinent comments by Clive Coleman, BBC legal correspondent:

"In terms of protecting people from hearing damage due to noise, this case effectively brings an orchestra space - or any live music venue for that matter - into line with other working environments such as a factory floor. An orchestra space or gig venue becomes, if you like, a factory where noise is the end product rather than the by-product of an industrial process. ..."

"Employers and organisers will now have to put processes in place to assess noise and anticipate sudden rises in noise levels. They will then have to take all reasonably practical steps to prevent injury resulting from the noise. The music won't stop, but it could get a fair bit quieter."

Replies (6)

April 17, 2019, 2:48 PM · I use special earplugs and my ears are not bad for my 70 years.
The viola player could have thought of it.
And the ROH too.!!
April 17, 2019, 4:53 PM · Sometimes earplugs work, and sometimes they just get in the way.

Orchestras can often do more to protect the ears of their players, especially those sitting in front of the winds or percussion. But all too often, they just don't feel like it.

When I played in the Nashville Symphony a while back, I would have to go through a song and dance with the stage people and personnel manager. It went something like this:

"Can I get a sound baffle?"
"We don't have any."
"I'm not playing then."
"Oh, I guess we found them."

Our personnel manager sat in the horn section--of course he could have cared less about my ears.

Edited: April 18, 2019, 6:55 AM · @ Adrian Heath
The ROC provided each member of the orchester with a hearing protection device as it's requested in the prescriptions. Obviously the man used it, otherwise he couldn't win that case. So it's not his fault.
Edited: April 18, 2019, 6:53 AM · According to previous reports he was indeed wearing earplugs. It's understandable that a viola player from one of the desks closest to the brass was the first musician to successfully sue his employer on these grounds, and interesting that his symptoms were of "acoustic shock syndrome" (often suggested to be partially psychological in origin) rather than objectively verifiable traumatic hearing loss.

Apparently the arrangement of the pit on this occasion was such as to maximise the brass sound (in Wagner) which of course put the poor fellow at greater than usual peril. No doubt this was the conductor's bright idea. To me the most incredible thing about the case is that the Royal Opera House's defence was founded on the argument that "the artistic value of the music produced by the orchestra meant that some hearing damage to its players was inevitable and justifiable". So the conductor's whim (sorry - "artistic vision") trumps all and deserters will be shot, just like in the trenches of the Somme.

April 18, 2019, 10:33 AM · For a Messiah rehearsal, I was in the back of the Viola section, directly in front of the trumpets. The conductor stopped and said, " do we need the sound baffles?" The lead trumpet said " that's OK, the Violas aren't bothering us". When OSHA discovers that musicians also have repetitive motion injuries, we will all be out of a job.
April 18, 2019, 5:37 PM · A year ago I was asked to join a local community orchestra which interestingly was set up many years ago for the benefit of musically minded staff in a local hospital, and had, and still does, have its rehearsals on Sunday evenings because it was the only time that busy medics and nurses were available for rehearsal in the old days. It is also convenient for me.

I turned up at my first rehearsal and the conductor parked me (sorry, invited me to sit) in the back desk of the 10 or so second violins. As a new arrival I have no objections to that level of anonymity because it gives me a chance to look around and observe. However, on this occasion I found myself sitting immediately in front of four enthusiastic horns, and that was no joke. When they were playing I literally could not hear what I was playing, nor anything else in the orchestra, not even the desk in front of me.

During the coffee break I noticed that there were only five firsts and that I knew the leader - we play in the firsts in another ensemble - so I put my concerns to her and asked if I could move in with the firsts. I was welcomed with open arms (not literally) and allocated the empty chair in the number 6 position. I am still happily that Number 6 (as in "The Prisoner"?). The conductor still hasn't noticed.

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