If you look carefully at this photo of contrabassoonist Burl Lane, who retired in 2008 after playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 43 years, you will see that he is wearing musicians' ear plugs. Melophobia is a little-known and little-understood neurophysiological condition. It is often wrongly defined as a fear of music, but is, in fact, an aversion to music caused by painful conditions resulting from prolonged exposure to loud sounds. Tinnitus and hyperacusis are the most common of these conditions and the risk to musicians can be greatly reduced by wearing custom designed tuned ear plugs such as those seen in the photo. Hearing damage is most often associated with rock musicians, but in one of the few informed articles about melophpobia Dr. Marsha Johnson clinical director at the Oregon Tinnitus & Hyperacusis Clinic, who has been treating melophobia sufferers for more than a decade, reveals:
Oddly enough, most of my musician patients are in orchestras, philharmonics, or symphony groups—or are piano players. These instruments are often quite loud, and the whole group productions are very loud, and I believe that the practice times needed to acquire great skill on these instruments are longer. Many professionals playing violins, flutes, cellos, and so on begin very early in life, so their exposure time may already have been decades long when they first begin to perform professionally.Dr. Marsha Johnson talks about the "deep fear and shame" associated with tinnitus and hyperacusis, and for this reason there needs to be more awareness of these conditions within classical music, particularly with the high sound levels associated with currently fashionable composers such as Mahler. There is, fortunately, a greater awareness of the risk to listeners from amplified music and from the massive recent growth of listening to portable audio players using headphones . But despite this greater awareness Dr. Johnson issues this stark warning:
The use of things such as iPods, which are forcing sound right down into the ear canal with the newer, tighter ear buds, is going to produce hearing loss and other auditory issues at far younger ages than we’ve seen in the past. This is going to be an epidemic of great proportions in our world.Given that most of Dr. Marsha Johnson's musician patients are in orchestras, it is puzzling why so many people in classical music have never even heard of melophobia.
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