It would seem anomalous that an orchestral musician would have less than normal hearing in order to monitor an exacting musical output. However, some recent studies show that a proportion of symphony musicians do have hearing impairments of various pathologies of which noise exposure, including the music alone, is the dominant causal factor. Intense music exposures in symphony orchestras often exceed the intensity standards of hearing conversation. A basic procedure for industrial hearing conservation is the control of the sound at the source, but the very purpose of the orchestra prevents its use. Hearing protection which is used voluntarily by some musicians presents a different sound picture. The control of intensity of music exposures is necessary but is separate from the concern of the present study with industrial issues and the perceptual-motor performance of musicians. Relevant aspects which are briefly reviewed include the incidence, susceptibility, and severity of hearing impairment among musicians; musical performance of the hearing impaired and the effects of various pathologies on their performance; medical-legal rules of impairment, disability, and handicap; and the incidence of compensible losses among musicians of certain orchestras. Illustrative results are presented of a preliminary study of hearing among 13 volunteer members of The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. It is suggested that a three- phase study be done: (1) a comparative study of hearing among symphony orchestras; (2) development of comprehensive tests to determine hearing-related performance; (3) provision of a rational basis for hearing criteria in the case of musicians for dealing with their employment, transfer, retirement, disability, handicap, and award of compensation. A fourth issue requiring concurrent study is the conserving of the hearing of orchestral musicians.


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