Why Europe is no longer world leader: one illustration

The New York Times writes of:

…a new regulation imposed by the European Union that reduces the allowable sound exposure in the European orchestral workplace from the present 90 decibels to 85. The problem is, a symphony orchestra playing full-out can easily reach 96 to 98 decibels, and certain brass and percussion instruments have registered 130 to 140 at close range.

The directive – issued last February and intended to protect all workers, orchestral musicians included – specifies a daily “upper exposure action value” of 85 decibels, amid a welter of other provisions. It acknowledges “the particular characteristics of the music and entertainment sectors.” It allows discretion to member states to use averaging, specifying a weekly exposure limit of 87 decibels, and to allow a transition period for implementation.

For me this article had a “jaw hits floor” quality. How about legislation saying that no composer can lose blood, sweat, and tears over a masterwork? Bach, after all, wrote the equivalent of twenty pages of music a day. He likely had some form of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Note that private solutions can alleviate the noise problem. Some orchestras increase the spacing between players. Some musicians use earplugs. Sometimes an orchestra will put plexiglass screens in front of the trombones. Or you don’t have to join an orchestra in the first place.

By the way, the trombones are not the only problem. The piccolo also has a negative effect on hearing.

And what about the United States?

In this country, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration takes a more hands-off attitude toward orchestras than the European Union. “We don’t basically get involved with them,” Francis Meilinger, an OSHA spokesman said. Here, too, orchestras fall under the agency’s general guidelines for the workplace, which allow a 90 decibel level over an eight-hour day, and a 97 decibel limit over three hours. Since American orchestras work relatively short days, and the peaks of sound are merely intermittent, they don’t represent a particular concern in this regard.

Imagine that, the EU having less sense than our OSHA. In any case, it remains to be seen how the measure will be implemented and enforced. Many musicians have announced that they plan to continue playing Wagner, Mahler, and Strauss, regardless of regulatory directives.


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