Ten years ago, after being told by my wife that I had ‘selective hearing’, I went for a hearing test. I was aware of having tinnitus but was not really prepared for the shock of being told that I had Music Induced Hearing Loss.
The hazards that affect musicians can be compared to those in any other sector. For example: Noise, Manual Handling, Electricity, Slips and Trips and Repetitive Strain Injuries – we could be talking about working in a factory. So raising awareness of these issues is key, and where better to start than in education? In further and higher education, courses such as Hair and Beauty or Engineering cover Health and Safety during Term One, while those involved in disciplines such as Dance and Drama receive musculoskeletal screening. However, the situation in music education is somewhat different.
After ‘retiring’ from playing professionally I went to work in music education and found that occupational health is not firmly embedded into the curriculum. Furthermore, education managers seem to think that foam earplugs are suitable hearing protection for musicians. Would you give dark/tinted safety goggles to a Student doing intricate soldering or using a drill? No. So why give an auditory block to a musician?
In the light of this, ACS launched a campaign for hearing conservation in education and offering affordable high-fidelity hearing protection solutions. This has received positive support from the British Tinnitus Association and Help Musicians UK together with respected music-education institutions including the Royal Northern College of Music, Royal Academy of Music and Chetham's School of Music.
George Odam, Emeritus Professor at Bath Spa University and Fellow of the Guildhall School, has been a champion of this subject for a while. He recently undertook a research project inquiring into the health of music students. After a one-year pilot study, worrying statistics were found showing that 26% of students had tinnitus and 17% had hearing loss. The seriousness of these statistics needs professional medical investigation.
So, the times they are a-changin’ – but we, with the support of the industry, must challenge those working in music education to raise awareness of the effects of exposure to loud music, so that musicians of the future can work in safe environments and play safe now – so that they can hear tomorrow.
Director of Education at Advanced Communication Solutions (ACS)