Music lovers and musicians of every genre can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain may not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, one German study revealed that working musicians are almost four times more likely to grapple with noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another profession. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels louder than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is normally irreversible.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And there have been countless notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Considerable hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer reported that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Looking for a way to reduce the continued degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he started to manufacture and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. And while she may not have Clapton’s international name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige suffered extensive hearing loss from fifty years of performing. Paige shared that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.