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It's a bit loud, isn't it?

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 08:20 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2012

In recent weeks, celebrities from the world of popular music have spoken out about the obvious, but often ignored, link between loud music and hearing problems. Chris Martin (Coldplay) and Plan B (handsome) have spoken about their problems with tinnitus; a constant, high pitched drone that can develop if the ear has been damaged by over-exposure to loud sounds.

This, and a host of other ear problems, are a problem in the classical music world. In my own practice, if I have repeatedly practised a particularly high, loud passage, I am conscious of discomfort in my ears - and that is nothing to do with dodgy intonation or screechy strings, thank you very much. I am often very thankful not to be a piccolo player when in a practice room. If there can be discomfort with just one person playing, how much worse can it be with multiple musicians playing?

When we rehearse music of a particularly bombastic nature, for example a Mahler or Bruckner symphony, or something very contemporary with an abundance of loud, jarring dissonances, I often feel that the silence on leaving the studio is very loud. Sometimes, I get a slight ringing in my ears, but thankfully for me, this is not a continuous sensation.

When I was young, my parents, quite rightly, were continually telling me to turn the volume down in my headphones. Alas, in work it is impossible to do that and you can't walk away from the noise in the way that you can move away from speakers at a gig or festival.

As musicians, our livelihood is somewhat dependent on our ability to hear satisfactorily and, therefore, we have to do what we can to minimise the damage inflicted on our hearing. This is often a compromise and involves a fair bit of trial and error.

On stage you frequently see little perspex screens behind various players' heads. These screens are supposed to protect the player from the sound levels coming from behind them, but often have the adverse effect of simply throwing that noise back to the colleague from which it is emitting, therefore placing their hearing at greater risk also. We have been experimenting with screens of different shapes and materials in work, but I don't know if there has been a conclusion reached yet. We're continuing to work with the orchestra's management to try and find a solution that works for everyone.

In the BBC National Orchestra of Wales we all have fancy-pants earplugs created from moulds of our ears, but I personally still do not find them particularly comfortable. I'm trying to persevere with them. Earplugs can sometimes make it difficult to hear either yourself, or the delicate nuances called for, and I personally hate feeling that I'm not catching all the details I should. However, better that than burgeoning hearing problems, I guess.

February saw British Tinnitus Awareness Week and now, Action on Hearing Loss' Loud Music Campaign aims to raise awareness about hearing health. Perhaps it is time for all of us to really start thinking about the health of our ears.

The orchestra presents an afternoon of Brahms, Mozart and Hindemith tonight (Wednesday 16 May) from 2pm, at BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff Bay. For more information and tickets, call 0800 052 1812.

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