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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 11:52 GMT
Musicians fear 'sound of silence'
London Symphony Orchestra
Orchestras could be forced to use mufflers
Orchestras might be forced by European law to play music more quietly, according to a leading British musicians body.

The Association of British Orchestras (ABO) is fighting to be exempted from a European directive under consideration that would place limits on noise in the workplace.

We recognise that at certain times there is a risk of hearing damage to musicians

Libby MacNamara

The directive has already been agreed by Britain and other EU member states and will receive a second reading in parliament later this month.

The parliament wants to reduce the decibel limit of noise in the workplace to 83, the point at which workers have to wear hearing protection.

A single trumpet is said to play up to 130 decibels and the ABO fears that the directive would effectively silence performances.

Libby MacNamara, director of the ABO, told BBC News Online: "It will stop us playing any loud music whatsoever, affecting almost of all of the pieces played by orchestras."

BBC Symphony Orchestra rehearsal
Trumpets can be tough on the eardrums
She said that if the directive was followed to the letter it could have a "devastating impact" on the music industry.

"We recognise that at certain times there is a risk of hearing damage to musicians. That is irrefutable.

"But we are working to try and remedy this in ways that are practical for the musicians."

Alison Wright Reid, an occupational health and safety specialist, said: "This will make classics unplayable.

"Musicians simply would not be allowed to play them all, including the EU's anthem, the finale of Beethoven's Ninth."

Ms MacNamara said the ABO was examining several possibilities to help minimise the risk of hearing damage.

Ideas floated include spreading out the orchestra, placing plastic baffles between the instrument and the musician and ear plugs.


But the ABO said it was aware that some potential solutions created their own problems, including adverse effects on a musician's ability to hear while playing.

"We have to be aware that there are dangers and we must raise awareness," said Ms McNamara.

The ABO, together with pan-European music bodies and unions, has lodged a statement with the EU making them aware of the effect of the legislation.

The legislation could also have an impact on people working in pubs, nightclubs and in concert venues.

Last week South African hit musical Umoja was forced to end its West End run after complaints from neighbours about noise.

The sound of the show's drumming led residents in a neighbouring block of flats to complain and the local authority, Camden Council, shut the show down.

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