Senior Musician

Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R.) is a nonprofit “… dedicated to raising awareness of the dangers of noise exposure that can lead to permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.”

It’s a formal organization dealing with one of the facts of the aging baby boomer generation, namely that years of loud amplified music takes a toll on the human ear.

One of the founders of H.E.A.R. — formed in 1989 — just announced his yearlong sabbatical from performing. At age 72, The Who’s Pete Townshend is now dealing with partial deafness and tinnitus. Unfortunately, his symptoms are typical for aging musicians. The effects of spending much of your life around loud music — and not just rock musicians, but many orchestral musicians also deal with this — is cumulative and, regrettably, not reversible. One of the goals of H.E.A.R. is to increase the use of earplugs by younger musicians and audience members. The use of high-quality earplugs can significantly reduce the long-term effects of exposure to loud music. So, if you have any grandkids — or even adult children — who listen to a lot of live music, then superior earplugs might make a great gift.

There are some technological workarounds for musicians, including in-ear monitors (IEMs). In fact, Neil Young introduced Townshend to IEMs years ago, after Young discovered them when he began feeling the effects of tinnitus. They are customized earpieces that can have the soundboard mix — the sound that is fed through the onstage monitors to the musicians — sent directly into what is in effect a grandiose hearing aid. The use of IEMs is allowing many aging rockers to keep on keeping on.