High Notes: Audiologist Serves as Consultant to Orchestra “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” — William Congreve People who are less familiar with classical music may think of it as calming. Richard H. Israel, an audiologist and a long-time music lover, had some other thoughts. And that is ... Features
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Features  |   March 01, 2006
High Notes: Audiologist Serves as Consultant to Orchestra
Author Notes
  • Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.
    Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.×
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Hearing Disorders / International & Global / Features
Features   |   March 01, 2006
High Notes: Audiologist Serves as Consultant to Orchestra
The ASHA Leader, March 2006, Vol. 11, 10. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.11042006.10
The ASHA Leader, March 2006, Vol. 11, 10. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.11042006.10
“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” — William Congreve
People who are less familiar with classical music may think of it as calming. Richard H. Israel, an audiologist and a long-time music lover, had some other thoughts. And that is why he is serving as consulting audiologist for the National Philharmonic Orchestra (NPO).
Classical music often reaches dangerous sound levels. For example, in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, when movements such as the “Gotterdammerung” are played, orchestra sounds of 110 decibels are attained. Trumpeters playing Mahler’s Ninth Symphony produce passages of 112 decibels. The recommended daily sound maximum is 85 decibels for eight hours a day.
For many years, Israel has followed performances of the NPO, which last year became a resident partner at the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, MD. He received a letter requesting support. When sending in his contribution, Israel wrote that he wanted to offer hearing testing free of charge to the 60-member orchestra.
“I corresponded with the conductor, Piotr Gajewski,” he said. Israel asked if it would be possible to have his name listed in the program as the consulting audiologist. It would be a way of raising awareness among audience members to think about their hearing ability and to consider having it checked by an audiologist. But Israel added that if it wasn’t possible to have a printed listing, the offer to test the musicians still stood. Gajewski agreed to the proposal and the men met to discuss what might be done.
Aside from enduring high noise levels, research suggests that orchestra members face a greater risk of hearing loss than rock musicians due to the nature of the music exposure. The classical musician typically plays five to 10 hours per day, including performance, practice, and teaching. Rock musicians may play only on Friday or Saturday nights.
Some orchestras use Lucite sound barriers between rows to limit the noise levels affecting musicians. These usually are not seen in the orchestra pits in theaters. The NPO does not use them nor do they use musicians’ earplugs.
For now, interested musicians can set up an appointment for a hearing test at Israel’s office in Silver Spring, MD. “It’s not a full blown audiological evaluation. It’s a pure-tone threshold screening test,” he said. The results are confidential for the orchestra member. Israel is considering bringing some equipment to Strathmore to do some testing onsite.
Israel isn’t sure whether the testing will catch on, though. “Musicians often don’t want to have their hearing tested-they’re afraid they might lose their jobs. One of the manifestations of that fear might be that only one musician has come to my office so far,” he said.
The hearing testing for the NPO will evolve and be driven by the orchestra members, he said. “I can offer to give them individual advice about their instrument and their position in the orchestra, as well as general information about hearing loss and the impact of exposure to high levels of sound.”
In a way, Israel’s connection to show business with the NPO represents a career circle. “Back in the 1950s when I was in college, no one had ever heard of audiology. I just accidentally stumbled into it. My career goal was to go into radio and television advertising,” he said.
He attended the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where the speech department offered courses in which he was interested. “At that time, it encompassed the theater, rhetoric, and public address. I was very active in the school’s radio program,” Israel said. He worked many late nights and even had his own key to the building. That gave him a feeling of ownership, he said.
One night, while walking around in a less familiar part of “his” building, Israel saw a sign for the Speech and Hearing Center. He went inside and asked what the professor there was doing. “And I was hooked,” Israel said.
For more information about musicians and hearing protection, view a National Hearing Conservation Association brochure at http://www.hearingconservation.org/docs/Prac_Guide6.pdf.
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March 2006
Volume 11, Issue 4