Musicians and Hearing Loss: 5 Questions with Benj Kanters
Benj Kanters is an associate professor and associate chair of the Audio Arts & Acoustics Department at Columbia College in Chicago, Ill, and the man behind the Hear Tomorrow workshop. Hear Tomorrow educates musicians, audio engineers and others in the entertainment industry about hearing loss prevention throughout the North America and Europe.
1. How did you get involved in hearing loss prevention and develop the Hear Tomorrow workshop?
I’ve been an audio engineer (live/concert sound and studio recording) for over 30 years. Throughout the 1980s, I was also teaching part-time at Northwestern University. In 1993, I began teaching full-time at Columbia College and engineering part-time. In 1998, I decided to go for a master’s degree in Music Technology at Northwestern. While there, my advisor suggested I take a hearing physiology course, which proved to be a wonderfully exciting new field of study for me. Hearing is taught using the language of audio and music, so it was easy for me to learn and has been equally easy to teach to others in these fields.
In 2000, I developed a semester-long course in hearing and hearing loss for students in my department. In 2007, the idea came to me to turn this course into a 2-hour seminar and take it on the road. By April of 2008, I launched the HearTomorrow web site, and conducted my first two workshops at NYU and Southern Illinois University. All told, I have presented over 35 HearTomorrow workshops in three years.
2. What’s the reaction been to the Hear Tomorrow workshop?
Better than I could have hoped! The most gratifying thing for me is hearing how attendees are talking for weeks about what they learned at the workshop. At the same time, is it any wonder that students and professionals in audio and music react so positively when they are shown how amazing their hearing is? Even more, that it is easy to convince them how important it is that they TAKE CARE of their hearing?
3. Why is hearing loss prevention important for musicians and audio engineers?
Consider that the most important “tool” of music making and audio engineering IS hearing. We use our ears to “regulate” the volume and tonal qualities of the sounds we are making as musicians, or manipulating as audio engineers.
Also, many don’t realize how EVERY musician is at risk for hearing loss. In fact, classical musicians are suffering more loss than pop musicians, simply because they practice more. Noise and music-induced hearing loss is the result of a COMBINATION of loudness AND duration. Moderately loud sound for a long time is as dangerous as extremely loud sound for a short time.
4. Have you found any new audiences for the Workshop?
Yes, two of note.
One is the United States Army Bands. Soldiers are already at risk of hearing loss with the weapons and transport systems they use. Many don’t realize how loud helicopters and tanks are. A stock Army Humvee at 40 mph is as loud as the loudest subways in Chicago or New York. Musicians in the armed forces suffer even more loss with all the rehearsing and performing they do. I’ve been invited to speak to the bands at U.S. Army bases Ft. Jackson and Ft. Riley where the base audiologists found that I was able to connect with these “soldier musicians” in ways that they cannot.
Another is audiologists. A colleague invited me to present to a group of audiologists in 2008. I asked, “What can I tell them that they don’t already know?” My colleague had seen the seminar and simply said that he felt I had something to offer. As it turned out, my style of teaching and the terms I use were totally new to this group of hearing professionals. It really threw me when one came up to me and said I had given her a whole new perspective on how to talk to her patients. I’m now receiving invitations to speak at conferences and even to students in AuD programs.
5. What advice do you have for performing musicians?
Learn to protect the most valuable “tool of your trade.” Learn about the hazards of noise and how to protect yourself. You’ll naturally begin to limit your exposure. Over time, you will be doing more and more to protect your hearing but without any feeling that you are sacrificing anything for the sake of your hearing.
But DO NOT think that it won’t take some effort. I have many friends in the industry, including several world-renowned musicians and engineers. They all agree that wearing earplugs (yes, even the expensive custom earplugs) and in-ear monitors require getting used to – and that it’s worth it!