The Court of Appeal has rejected the argument that music making in Britain will be adversely affected due to a successful claim for compensation from a musician, who plays in the orchestra for the Royal Opera House, after their hearing was damaged by exposure to the noise of brass instruments.
The musician is a professional viola player and was positioned right in front of the brass section when the orchestra was rehearsing the famous piece from Wagner entitled ‘Ring Cycle’. Being in the confined space of the orchestra pit the musician had the principal trumpet next to his head and the sound emitted from it was enough to cause intense pain in his right ear. He was able to complete the rehearsal however was suffering from confusion afterwards.
This experience left him with an extreme sensitivity to noise which meant he could even stand the sound of his own instrument as well as suffering dizziness so he had to retire from playing the viola and any form of music career. He also decided to move to the country for the peace and quiet as everyday noises in a busy city environment meant pain and discomfort.
Solicitors initiated court proceedings on his behalf and a judge subsequently found that the Royal Opera House had failed to comply with its obligations under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. It was found that the noise levels musicians were exposed to during rehearsals was at least four times the recommended noise level.
The Court dismissed the Royal Opera House’s challenge to the ruling. The judge found that it had failed in its duty to take the necessary steps to reduce the noise levels in the orchestra pit to as low a level as was reasonably practicable. It was particularly significant that noise levels were significantly reduced after the musician went off sick and the pit was reconfigured, splitting up the brass instruments.
The Royal Opera House, along with other musical bodies, had expressed concerns about the possible wider ramifications of ruling in the musician’s favour. They raised the prospect of the repertoire of the Royal Opera House being confined to less noisy works and the curtailment of musical activities in concert halls, theatres and schools.
The Court, however, did not agree that such a negative scenario reflected a proper understanding of its decision. For most venues, space would not be the problem that it is for the Royal Opera House and the evidence showed that a reasonably small repositioning of the orchestra had already markedly reduced noise levels.
The amount of the musician’s compensation will be assessed at a further hearing.