The study, which appeared in the online version of Applied Acoustics, tested noise levels in the orchestra pit at the request of the COC musicians' union. Alberto Behar, lead researcher at the university's Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, explained, "The orchestra musicians. . . were concerned about the noise level in the pit when it came to renewing their contract. We were requested by the union to study if there is a risk to their hearing."
Sixty-seven volunteers in different instrument groups wore noise dosimeters (instruments that measure sound) for 18 sessions that represented average amounts of noise exposure. The researchers found that all noise levels remained below the acceptable daily decibel amount recommended by the U.S. National Institute of Safety and Health and other health-related institutions.
The findings are the opposite of those gathered by Alison Wright Reid in a 2001 study for the Association of British Orchestras. Reid found that the sound produced by a symphony orchestra "is loud enough to cause hearing loss, pitch distortion, tinnitus, and pain."
Although the U of T team found there was no danger of hearing-loss based on the findings and the number of hours the musicians spend in the pit each year, Behar recommended a "hearing conservation program," including earplugs, to further reduce musicians' risks.