A new study from the Netherlandshas found that earplugs are essential for orchestral musicians, revealing that physical measures such as placing screens between sections or creating more space between players are largely ineffective. The research from the Eindhoven University of Technology, which has been published this month in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, used the first two minutes of the St ürmisch bewegtfinale of Mahler’s First Symphony as a representative example of loud orchestral playing.

The research, led by acoustics expert Remy Wenmaekers, was designed to evaluate the potential effectiveness of common control measures used in orchestras on open stages with a typical symphonic setup, using an acoustic prediction model that calculates the sound exposure levels of every musician in the orchestra. The model was based on recordings of orchestral music, instrument by instrument, made in an anechoic chamber and took into account the direction of the sound of the instruments, the listening orientation of the receivers, reflection of sound, and the blocking of sound on stage by musicians’ bodies.

Wenmaekers’ study calculated the effect of sound-reducing measures including screens and high plateaus for different instrumental sections, but according to his research, those effects appeared...