goldscheider v royal opera house

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goldscheider v royal opera house

Post by lennygoran » Fri Nov 02, 2018 8:15 am

A friend sent me this article. Len still in secaucus

Richard Morrison: Professional music-making isn’t compatible with health and safety

Read the 83-page judgment in the case of Goldscheider v Royal Opera House and you can vividly picture the incident that unleashed this High Court furore. A late-summer Saturday afternoon. A huge orchestra crammed into a dark, stuffy pit, rehearsing Die Walküre, one of history’s loudest operas. By then it had been preparing Wagner’s Ring cycle for three days running, six hours a day, so you may imagine the mood.

One viola player, Christopher Goldscheider, finds himself sitting right in front of the principal trumpet, one of 18 brass players arrayed behind him. As the Wagnerian fortissimos blast out he becomes increasingly distressed. Yes, he has been given earplugs by the management, but when he wears them he can’t properly hear the conductor’s instructions, or his own instrument, so he doesn’t wear them all the time.

Then he starts to feel ill. Nauseous, dizzy, deaf. So deaf that a specialist later diagnoses “acoustic shock”, a controversial medical term invented ten years ago. He can’t work for months, unable to tolerate even mundane everyday sounds. So he sues his employer.

All that happened in 2012. The case took five years to come to court, but after a nine-day hearing in February this year Mrs Justice Davies’s judgment sent a shockwave through the musical world. She ruled in favour of Goldscheider.

The Royal Opera House (ROH), she declared, shouldn’t have left the decision to wear earplugs to the musicians. Wearing them should have been mandatory at all times. Moreover, the orchestral pit should have been designated a “hearing protection zone”, with all the warnings required by law. In that regard, she ruled, there’s no difference between an opera house and a factory.

As to the ROH’s contention that wearing earplugs would impair its musicians’ world-class standards, she ruled that such “artistic” concerns shouldn’t take precedence over employees’ health. She also accepted, for the first time in English law, the concept of “acoustic shock”, a term hitherto used chiefly in connection with call-centre employees assaulted by unexpected loud noises on their phones. Goldscheider suffered acoustic shock, the judge decided, because as a viola player he couldn’t have known the trumpet parts of Die Walküre well enough to be able to anticipate when the fortissimos would happen.

I mention all this because it’s topical again. Last week the ROH was granted permission to appeal. So the arguments will be weighed in court all over again, probably next summer. Going to appeal is a huge and questionable gamble for a publicly funded institution, because the cost of fighting and losing the case must already be in seven figures. Yet I can see why ROH managers are persisting. They believe that they were doing all they reasonably could to protect the musicians’ ears.

In fact, the ROH is a pioneer in this field. As long ago as 2008 the Times dance critic, Debra Craine, reported in these pages about its innovations. They included daily use of noise meters, individually tailored earplugs for players, acoustic screens between instrumental sections, regularly changed seating arrangements so the same players weren’t always exposed to the most noise, and forward planning to ensure that, as far as possible, noisy repertoire was interspersed with quieter pieces.

What the judge said, in effect, was: “That’s not enough.” And if her decision stands, the implications for music generally are huge. Do pop promoters have a similar obligation to insist that their performers wear earplugs at all times? That’s not very rock’n’roll, but it seems to be the law, at least as interpreted by Davies.

Nobody doubts that many musicians are particularly vulnerable to hearing loss. The list of rock stars who have gone deaf or partially deaf grows by the year. Classical musicians, rehearsing and performing for many more hours each week, are perhaps even more at risk. A German study from 2014 found that musicians are four times more likely than the general population to develop hearing problems. Often that’s caused by their own instruments, which is why violinists usually notice more hearing loss in the left ear (the one that almost touches the instrument) than the right.

If we played music more quietly, many of these problems would disappear. Unfortunately the trend is in the opposite direction. For the past 100 years decibel levels have been soaring towards the pain threshold. Ear-splitting amplification at rock venues is one reason for that, but not the only one. Today’s orchestral instruments are far more powerful than their 19th-century forerunners. Cinemas blare out soundtracks so loud that you can feel the bass frequencies thudding into your chest. Your headphones are probably pumping more decibels into you than a pneumatic drill on the other side of the street.

The human ear, however, hasn’t evolved to cope. It’s still the same, sensitive little mechanism that a medieval shepherd possessed. Once damaged, it rarely recovers its functions fully. Yet on these fragile few centimetres of tissue and bone depends the most mysterious talent that humanity has — the ability to create and hear music.

It needs every protection we can give it. The question to be resolved is whether the protection envisaged by Davies is compatible with the financial and practical realities of professional music-making. I’m doubtful.

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Re: goldscheider v royal opera house

Post by maestrob » Fri Nov 02, 2018 11:51 am

Good article, Len, thank-you. The loudness of classical music's big symphonies and Wagner's operas are well-known, but stress injuries of classical musicians are not so well-known and are rarely covered by the media. I'm on Goldscheider's side in this argument, no question.

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Re: goldscheider v royal opera house

Post by barney » Fri Nov 02, 2018 5:16 pm

Yes, really interesting Len. Thanks for posting it.

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