Lessible decibels

THINGS don't upset me the way they used to. When I was a kid I was shaken to learn that my favorite screen idol, Elmo the Mighty, did not really lift an elevator full of imperiled people by himself. He was assisted by a power winch off camera. I also went into a brief decline when I discovered my seventh-grade teacher whose curly blond hair I admired wore a wig. But I was not too much undone by recent information that musicians in symphony orchestras use earplugs.

Oh, I raised an eyebrow, but only because it seems unfair. They expect us to listen to the music. After thinking it over calmly, however, I could see that a musician wearing earplugs was not in the same category as someone I know who simply puts his fingers in his ears at concerts. He does it even with soft music.

And earplugs do not come under that crass judgment of the crude critic of opera who says he knows it isn't ``over till the fat lady sings.''

It can be assumed that symphony musicians have sensitive ears. Orchestras can get awfully loud, especially when they shoot off cannons in the ``1812 Overture.'' Even music in the medium range like the Anvil Chorus from ``Il Trovatore'' can shake a few pins loose at times. So if an unfortunate musician finds himself somewhere in front of the brass section, or even near that skinny, baldheaded fellow who beats the kettle drums, he is apt to be in for a double dose of decibels.

There is one curious aspect of this earplug thing; a musician isn't required to bring his own earplugs. If he feels he needs them, they must be provided by management. Of course, a musician is supposed to bring his own instrument, but it could be embarrassing for him to be caught carrying around his own earplugs. As if he didn't want to hear his own music.

Eventually something better will be worked out. Through long tradition the public has come to expect a musician to listen to his own music, so if it is too loud, other devices may be used. Plexiglass shields, thick carpets, and more space are being tried.

Rock groups are not discussed, since many suspect that rock musicians go tone-deaf early in their careers and do not actually hear the music they make.

Earplugs for the audience have also been suggested. But this would bring up the old puzzle: If an orchestra plays on a deserted island where there is no one to hear it, does it make a noise?

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