UPMC | University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
EXTRA! - A biweekly newsletter for staff of UPMC
Friday, May 5, 2006
Volume 17, No. 9
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Strike up the band ... safely
UPMC helps protect the hearing of Pittsburgh’s young musicians

Catherine Palmer helps the band make beautiful, safe music

UPMC's Catherine Palmer helps the band at Langley High School in the West End of Pittsburgh make beautiful -- and safe -- music.

Students don goggles to guard their eyes while in the chemistry lab. On the football field, no one participates without wearing a helmet and pads.

It only makes sense then, says UPMC’s Catherine Palmer, PhD, for school districts to take steps to protect student musicians from a danger they face each time they tune up for a rehearsal.

“Anyone who plays in an orchestra or a band is definitely exposed to sound that is loud enough to damage their hearing over time,” says Dr. Palmer, director of the UPMC Center for Audiology and Hearing Aid Services.
Dr. Palmer and the UPMC Musicians’ Hearing Center have embarked on an effort to educate music teachers and their students about the dangers of prolonged exposure to loud sound.

As part of this program, the Musicians’ Hearing Center has partnered with the Pittsburgh Public Schools to distribute non-customized musician earplugs to the city’s young musicians.

Unlike foam earplugs, which block out some pitches more than others, making speech and music muffled, the musician earplugs distributed by UPMC reduce the overall sound evenly across all frequencies. Speech and music stay clear, just quieter.

“Plus, they come in colors so they can match the school colors, which is a big hit with the kids,” adds Dr. Palmer.

Making music with the Langley Mustangs

Dr. Palmer and her staff work with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Carnegie Mellon University to protect the hearing of professional musicians and music majors.
“But is it especially important that we reach younger musicians because you want to establish healthy hearing habits as early as possible,” says Dr. Palmer.



French horn
Piano fortissimo
Orchestra peaks

Without protection, regular, sustained exposure at 90 dB or greater may cause permanent hearing damage.

The partnership with the Pittsburgh Public Schools is an effort to achieve that goal. Nancy Addy, a music teacher at the city’s Langley High School, says her band room carpeting does absorb some sound. However, the room “still rings pretty loud” during rehearsals.

The earplugs are now standard equipment, and the partnership with UPMC has generated added benefits for the Langley students. “We have created other ‘teachable moments’ because we are learning about the damaging effects of prolonged, loud sound while talking about different musical concepts such as tone and pitch,” says Ms. Addy.

The clinical staff of the UPMC Musicians’ Hearing Center are available to present free in-service programs at local schools. For more information, call 412-647-2030.

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