clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Court rules that musician wrongly suffered hearing loss while rehearsing music for Apocalypse Now attack scene

New, 19 comments

It was Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”

Halle Orchestra

A British viola player has won an important case against London’s Royal Opera House, after the court sided with his claim that he suffered permanent hearing damage during a performance of Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”

Chris Goldscheider, 45, is a professional musician who spent 10 years with the Royal Opera House in London. But, he says, he was left with permanent hearing loss in 2012 after rehearsing “Ride of the Valkyries,” part of Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, famously used by Francis Ford Coppola during the attack scene in Apocalypse Now.

Goldscheider retired two years later and today says that he has moved his family to the country and “avoids restaurants and other loud places,” according to the Washington Post.

Now, Britain’s High Court has ruled that the Royal Opera House is responsible for his injury and will do an assessment of proper damages. (Goldscheider’s lawsuit sought over a million dollars in lost earnings alone.)

How did this happen?

The lawsuit claims that Goldscheider suffered from “acoustic shock,” or the symptoms (like ringing in the ears) that happen after a sudden, loud noise. The term was first applied to operators in call centers, but what happened to Goldscheider is far more serious than what happens in a call center.

Horns, after all, are far louder than telephones, and during one particular performance of that famous piece, he sat right in front of the brass instruments: one tuba, nine French horns, four trombones, and four trumpets — including the main trumpet. He was wearing special earplugs, but, he claims, they weren’t enough.

According to the ruling, over the course of a few hours, the horn sounds were greater than 91 decibels and peaked at more than 137 decibels. For context, 95 decibels is about as noisy as a motorcycle at 25 feet, and “damage is likely in [eight] hours.” And 137 decibels is louder than hearing a jet plane take off. With that level of noise, it’s no wonder that he felt dizzy and nauseated later on, even with the special earplugs.

The case is the first time a court has ruled that acoustic shock is worthy of compensation, according to the BBC, and is likely to have far-reaching effects in the music business.