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Question for the septuagenarians (That means persons 70 years old and older)

I asked Peter Blood (a respected "cultural journalist" among other things) recently, if he remembers an ENT specialist, or otolaryngologist by the name of Dr Aziz who wrote on the Evening News sometime back in the early to mid 70s, that ALL PANMEN ARE DEAF? He couldn't recall. Who remembers that evening news article?

Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Hinkson, anyone (if you're old enough), do you remember that article? I am not joking, and I am not hallucinating, as I am not under the influence of any intoxicants or hallucinogens

Everybody, all the leaders in the steelband world then, said in unison, that the man was talking nonsense, only to realize now that the noise emitted from a "Small Steelband" exceeds the allowable decibel level of 85 which can cause permanent damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss.

As we get into full gear for panorama, has it become necessary for leaders in the steelband world to explore and implement measures to mitigate the damage continued exposure to the high noise levels emitted by steelbands causes to exponents of the art form?

I intend to raise that question with a school steelband, and I intend to collect evidence by initiating a study conducted and verified by HSE professionals with properly calibrated and certified instruments for the benefit of all Panmen.

I solicit this forum's thoughts and input on the subject.



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Agreed. I tried in those days not just with pannists but with DJs, particularly on Carnival day and revelers. Oddly enough ear protection is a standard part of a professional drummer's tool kit. I also forgot to mention that my mother was an ENT nurse in San Fernando who always said that the clinic used to be almost overrun with pannists every ash Wednesday and the day after. The problem has indeed been well known for a long long time. The Juman paper, however, gives more details that may help with the selection of the best protection device. 

Oddly enough have you ever tried those buds at Panorama. I tried the natural ones (the flaps just under the ears) and found that the pan actually sounds better. 

I am humbled with the appearance of Professor Copeland, and with his contribution to this discussion. I sincerely believe that as the pan continues to evolve, it is absolutely necessary that we the creators of the instrument, gather data and document findings in an effort to make the only musical instrument invented in the twentieth century truly acceptable globally, taking it's place as a standard percussion instrument, and orchestra among already established and universally accepted ones.

The fact of the matter is that we do not have to travel to remote locations to do our experiments, and to gather data that would conclusively allow us to progressively implement the adjustments and modifications required to both instruments and orchestras necessary for the improvement of the product as a whole, and for the well being of it's practitioners. 

If properly structured and executed, I see no reason why common constraints usually associated with many a research project, namely funding should be an issue. The evidence suggests that the qualified manpower is available at both ends of the spectrum. 

I look forward to establishing contact with Professor Copeland in an effort, or rather an attempt to rationalize the raison d'être of what I have initiated on this forum.

LOOK, RUSSELL: Just like that you have all the SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE you need with the added punch of LOCAL NAMES as references. And you have a nice THESIS STATEMENT to get the attention of the young students in the class.

In a study done by Professor Copeland and his then PhD student Fasil Muddeen and Dr Solaiman Juman at Exodus Steelband in the 1990s on the sound levels throughout the band, they found that the loudest was in the rack. Those levels were consistently above the pain threshold or 125dB.

"These results indicate that pannists suffer permanent auditory damage from high-in-tensity sound levels and that preventative measures are required to prevent this hearing loss, particularly in younger players."

And this is why I [RUSSELL PROVIDENCE] have come to YOUR SCHOOL today to bring AWARENESS to this PROBLEM and to offer some guidance in avoiding HEARING LOSS among PANNISTS!!!

Yuh almost ready to ROLL, Russell!!!

I have tried contacting Dr Juman .. awaiting a response. At the same time I think, as others have stated here, that this all boils down to player sensitization as the technology to avoid or minimize hearing loss is quite mature.  Perhaps a workshop targeting band managers is in order?

I hope this response does not ruffle feathers of some contributors on this topic, but each individual playing pan is a different individual and a single analysis for all panmen/women is ludicrous, I will draw on my experiences as follows:

1. I began playing pan in 1962 - 1965 in our outdoor tent on Roble street in Morvant and then transitioned to Playing with WITCO Gay Desperadoes form 1965 - 1971 in and open air environment and on rainy days in a close environment (the community center on the hill) that is a total of nine years.

2.  I was drafted into the U S Army and passed all hearing tests, never less to said as a military  person you are exposed to numerous environment that will affect your hearing  e.g firing of tanks (120mm Main gun and three support machine guns)  Howitzers (155mm Cannons) and in my case flying Helicopters for 10 years. Served 26years and 4months.

I am closer to 70 years and  after almost 36 years in environments that should have left me deaf, my hearing is still pitch perfect.  I submit it all depends on the INDIVIDUAL panman/woman and how serious they take the commitment to their chosen field/craft,  I am a strong believer you are responsible for your own well being first and then for those to whom you are entrusted. 

I am in full agreement with Mr. Michael B Best's contribution, for your benefit sir, on Saturday,  this is how I attempted to describe what you have shared, but in my own words.

"The fact remains that noise induced hearing loss may be as a result of exposure to sounds that are too loud, even if they occur for a brief period. Like any other health issue that could be prevented, the effects or impact of exposure may vary from person to person. Classical examples that can be cited may be the incidence of cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol usage, and the incidence of other lifestyle diseases like heart conditions or hypertension, or even the incidence of lung cancer and smoking. We may all know of individuals who may have abused alcohol, or may have used it continuously for an extended period and never displayed symptoms associated with the scarring of the liver. Similarly, there are persons who have smoked for decades and may never have developed lung cancer. That does not cancel the evidence of medical research relative to the causes of  the higher incidences of these lifestyle conditions. and mitigation of its occurrence by abstinence or avoidance. Similarly, I believe that if we endeavor to better understand the hazards to our hearing by the high noise levels emitted by steelbands, and consider methods to mitigate the impact by practicing good hearing health, we can protect the hearing of panmen for life, and the only way that we can conclusively determine if the concerns I have expressed in the initiation of the discussion are real is if we conduct properly structured research in the subject environment , under the subject conditions."

I am truly highly appreciative of your contribution to this important discussion. Thank you for sharing your experiences as we go forward.

Russell: What I have said 100 times on this forum is that WE LACK ADMINISTRATIVE SKILLS from TOP TO BOTTOM.


Mr Russell Providence your assessment is right on Que you have grasp the duodenal of the issue, when individuals draw general conclusion on issues  that could not possibly relate to everyone when our physical, mental, and emotional make up is not the same (the lord made us all as individual).  This reminds me of when I started to play pan folks would classified all pan players as "Bad Johns, Vaga Boons, etc, this was never the case .  Thanks for the insight and for the intellectual journey on this topic  

Michael, please consider one thing.  You have been lucky, you have apparently not developed a hearing problem.  Others with different genes or exposures may not be so lucky.  And no one will know the result until after the exposure.  If you are not so lucky the damage will be done, AND IT IS IRREVERSIBLE.  Even worse you may develop tinnitus, ringing in the ears.  That can come close to driving you crazy.  I have a good friend, now also involved in pan, who was a jazz keyboardist.  From exposure on gigs back years ago he developed severe tinnitus and hearing loss.  Obviously, he would have taken steps to reduce his exposure if he had known of the potential damage.  He wasn't as lucky as you, but it is a one way street.  If you lose it, you'll never get it back. Knowing the potential consequences, is it worth the risk.

Worse still to my mind is the potential issue for the many young people who make up many steelbands, both school bands and Panorama bands.  Young people may not be as likely to be educated regarding the risks, and may not be mature enough to make a thoughtful decision to protect themselves.  And I would think that steelbands, their management, and, in Trinidad, Pan Trinbago and the education ministry might bear some liability in the event that some of their young members develop hearing loss.  Certainly, here in the USA, a very litigious society, there have many similar cases where various parties have won substantial amounts for similar injury.  Look at all the safety warnings in the front of the instructions that come with everything that you buy.  Why do you think that they are there.

I'd like to think that one step to be taken would be for Pan Trinbago and/or the NCC to appoint a safety officer to develop recommended practice for this and a number of pretty obvious safety hazards involving pan and Carnival.

The key to all this is public awareness , and this forum is a good start.

Anyone interested in becoming active on this issue should consider raising awareness via social media and trying to get opinion makers in T&T involved. 

I know there is Talk radio in Trini , and it would certainly help to get the issue discussed on radio , and to try and involve popular personalities as advocates.

These are the sort of thing I would be doing for starters, if I lived in Trini and cared about this issue.

In the long run , though it will depend on personal responsibility , unless there are mandates , legal or otherwise.

As the saying goes " You could lead a horse to water etc. etc."

Because , since this is a pan forum , I assume no one is thinking of the alternative , which is to have steelbands make less noise !

Would creating RULES for steelbands in Panyards or classrooms help? I still see COST associated with the implementation.

The REALITY is...it doesn't matter what's your background, you can't change human nature. Here's a local community where you have people who some would consider leaders in their professions Academics, Lawyers. Doctors, Economists, Computer Engineers average citizens being reminded HOW to THINK when RULES are put in place. These are PARENTS, friends, family members and visitors to the games. I'm sure some can relate.

The Soccer Association have these signs posted at the entrance to the soccer fields as a reminder. Over 20 plus soccer fields in the neighborhood.

PJJ, thanks for joining the intellectual exercise, I believe with Mr. Russell Providence and Mr. Claude Gonzales input we could forward this discussion to the Ministries of Education, Culture and all the other related organizations as the next step forward. As with most thing in life the individual is our starting point and to steal Mr Gonzales eloquent writings  we need to get the steel band leadership and the pan players educated in the ADMINISTRATIVE SKILLS  to orchestrate the changes need to take pan forward.


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