School is back in session, and as teachers we all know that means stocking up on hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and tissues, and scheduling the annual flu shot. While these are all very important, there are several other areas that all teachers – but in particular music teachers – need to be concerned about: our voices and our hearing.
Our voices and our hearing are critical to our professional lives as well as our musical lives, and ignoring the stresses that being a teacher can put on these systems can damage them… permanently!
Music classrooms are inherently noisy. First there is the ventilation system to compete with, which is especially difficult in the large spaces we typically teach in. That’s only compounded by the size of our ensembles – generally at least 30 students. And of course one cannot forget the instruments! Competing with all of this takes a toll on the voice. By the end of the day, having to project above all of the noise of a normal classroom makes speaking nearly impossible. I remember many times throughout the school year when I basically had no voice by the end of the final class – and as a knowledgeable voice/choral teacher, I was being very, very careful!
Luckily there are solutions that can help in the classroom, most of which are portable so they can be taken to the concert hall or any other space that you find yourself in.
The Samson XP106wDE Expedition portable rechargeable PA is the perfect system for the teacher that uses multiple spaces. It is a lightweight, portable and completely wireless system which comes with a wireless headset to allow for complete freedom of movement. The system also has several auxiliary line inputs so you can play audio from external devices at the same time you are using it to save your voice.
The Anchor Audio Megavox Pro PA is another portable, wireless (battery powered) solution for the classroom, large space or even outside. It comes with two built-in wireless receivers, and you can choose the type of microphone that fits you best – headset, collar or lapel, handheld, or headband mic. The system also has line-in and line-out jacks so you can play audio from external devices or piggyback it to another speaker.
If you are looking for something with a bit more power, the Anchor Audio Liberty Dual Package may be the best solution for the classroom, a large space, or outside. It has two speakers that can use AC or rechargeable batteries (last up to eight hours), built-in Bluetooth, auxiliary line input, and optional CD/MP3 player. Like the Megavox Pro, it has two built-in wireless receivers so you can to choose your preferred microphone.
In a study by Joseph Pisano of Grove City College, 42 band directors were tested for noise-induced hearing loss. It found that 86% showed some degree of damage. That statistic should scare us all! While instrumental teachers may be the most vulnerable, the choral and classroom teacher can also suffer hearing loss from their work with students in the classroom.
This came to my attention when I was visiting the European Music Educators Association, which is made up of teachers who teach for the Department of Defense Education Activity. During that visit I found that the Department of Defense takes hearing loss so seriously that they require both the teacher and the students in the band to wear noise-reducing earplugs during any class where there can be excessive sound or when electronic equipment is played. We even had a wonderful presentation about hearing loss from one of the Army doctors that was truly enlightening.
Some interesting facts:
Noise levels for the average band rehearsal regularly reach 110 db.
Noise levels for the average marching band rehearsal regularly reach 125 db.
Noise levels for the average choral or general music classroom regularly reach 100 db.
90-95 decibels is the level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss.
125 decibels is the level at which pain begins.
140 decibels is the level where even short-term exposure can cause permanent damage.
In a study, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that a band director’s noise exposure reached and exceeded occupational exposure limits that they recommend (85 db over an eight-hour exposure). They also found that the noise levels were greater in the band room than in the cafeteria, and that the average band room was not a large enough rehearsal space for the number of students in the high school marching band.
These are all reasons that music educators and probably every student in the instrumental program should use hearing protection each and every day. You will want something different than the foam earplugs they sell at the corner drug store. While those protect against noise levels, they also distort the sound and eliminate certain frequencies. Instead, you will want to look at getting a set of high-fidelity earplugs like:
The Etymotic ETY Earplugs reduce most noise to safe levels while preserving the clarity of speech and the richness of music. It allows you to hear the sound exactly as the ear would hear it, only quieter.
The Etymotic ER20XS Earplugs are a bit smaller and more discreet, having a lower profile that sits snugly in the ear without protruding – but again, allowing you to hear the sound exactly as the ear would hear it, only quieter.
The Earasers Musicians’ Earplugs were developed by an engineer who has been a musician for over 20 years. They are great for very loud environments, allowing you to hear at a safe, comfortable level.
The Etymotic Electronic Musicians’ Earplugs are state of the art, protecting your ears and providing two modes: a low position which provides a 15dB decrease in sound pressure, and a high position which provides for a 6dB gain for soft sounds and a 9dB cut for loud sounds.
It is important that you take into consideration that damage to the ear and hearing is always permanent. Once a hair cell in the cochlea has been damaged or destroyed, it cannot be repaired – so take care of your ears and your students’ ears!