Thursday, September 04, 2003

In Which The Jewish Observer Gets Fisked!

A recent post on Protocols about Rabbi Jeff Forsythe reminded me of his Jewish Observer article "Welcome to Our Simcha! The serious effects of excessive amplification at public events." which was published in the September issue a few years back.

I emailed a response at the time, which both Rabbi Forsythe and the JO ignored, but am going to post some of my thoughts here now.
"The trumpets, the drum, the saxophone blast out the message: "Od yishama b'orei Yehuda… The cities of Yehuda will once again reverberate with joy." The friends of the chassan and kalla rush up to congratulate the new couple, while the rest of the guests try to read each other's lips – wondering why they left their earplugs at home."
Yeah, because the volume of the horn section playing sans amplification as they escort the Chosson and Kallah to the yichud room is unreasonably loud!

At this point in the wedding, the rest of the band is generally setting up in the main ballroom while only the horn players are playing Od Yishoma acoustically as they escort the Chosson and Kallah to the Yichud room. Usually the two to three horn players at a typical wedding have to struggle to be heard over the crowd.The only guests who would find the music uncomfortably loud at this point in the affair would be the jerks who stop to have a conversation directly in front of the trombone or trumpet player, and get in their way, ignoring the fact that they are trying to keep up with the Chosson and Kallah.
"The musicians have vested interests in playing loudly. The youth consider loudness “laibedik” (lively) and are likely customers when they will make their own chasunas, if they are impressed with the noisy band."
Where does he get this from? It’s true that some people like it loud, not only the “youth”, but musicians also have a vested interest in playing at reasonable volume levels too to preserve their hearing! It's interesting to note that Rabbi Forsythe can tell us what musician's motivations are without speaking to a single one. I know many musicians on the wedding scene who won't accept work with certain musicians or bands because the gig will be unpleasantly loud. Sure there are some jerks, but don't tar all of us with the same brush. Most of us like to play at normal volumes so that we can comfortably hear ourselves and focus on our musical interaction with the other musicians instead of having to focus on simply "being heard" above the noise.
"Incidentally, we should take note that a 30-piece symphony orchestra can be less threatening to the ear than a one-piece band that is electronically amplified, with its sound blasting forth from outsized speakers that can blow out one’s eardrums."
A 30-piece symphony playing without amplification would still be louder than the volume level the anonymous "frum" ear doctor he quotes later on in the article says is acceptable.
"The Rama (Choshen Mishpat 155:20) says that the halacha’s safety criteria are to be determined by experts in their respective field. A frum ear doctor, who has experience with the difficulties of treatment and with patients’ long-term suffering in noise-induced ear-damage cases, determined that for the sound-volume level to be safe, people in conversation ten feet apart should be able to speak in a normal tone and hear every word clearly and no one present at the function should have any pain or discomfort. Obviously, then, amplification should be carefully monitored at all functions – social and organizational."
Why is the ear doctor’s name not disclosed and of what relevance is his level of religious observance? He cites the Rema that Halacha is determined by the experts in a given field. We’re dealing with a medical statement, so let us know who this "frum" doctor is so we can assess his statement in light of his reputation and qualifications!

Additionally, the case isn’t helped through the setting of impossible benchmarks. The volume level this "frum ear doctor" recommends is simply unreasonable. It is impossible to have a conversation under those circumstances in shul while the chazzan is singing “L'cha Dodi” without a band. The assertion that this is an appropriate volume level for a live band at a wedding with hundreds of guests is just bogus!”

A few additional thoughts:

Rabbi Forsythe's Jewish Observer article is a condensed version of a series of articles that he'd originally published in the Jewish Press. Those articles are archived here. The tone in those articles is much more sanctimonious and self-righteous than the in JO article and also more ignorant! I will refrain from commenting on those articles for now, but must address one quote from this article.
"I have yet to meet any Jewish musician or singer who himself is a genuine Talmid Chochom…"
This is ignorance and arrogance at its highest level. I am aware of quite a few musicians who learn part time and support themselves by playing music at night. Some professional musicians that I know on the New York scene are mohelim, rebbeim, teachers, and Yeshiva administrators. And, many of them have smicha! Rabbi Forsythe owes these musicians - and the industry in general - a public apology.

With regard to the JO article:

There are occasionally events where the band is too loud through no fault of it's own. Some wedding halls are essentially school gyms and a crowd of 300 + people plus a live band will be loud even if the band is volume conscious. Also, in some halls, there are tables placed directly in front of the band. No matter how volume conscious the band is, those tables will probably not be good places to carry on conversations at during the dance sets.

In some halls, the band is set up with the men dancing in front of them and a mechitza and the women's dancing located on the far side of the room. In order to be heard in the farther section the band will have to raise the volume beyond that which is necessary for the closer men's dancing. It is possible to work around this by having two PA systems, but in many halls this simply isn't possible because the rooms are dual use and there's no time/space to set up an additional sound system. Also, this would increase the cost of the band.

There is an obvious solution to the problem, though, which he simply fails to mention, and that is to encourage people to take note of when a band is too loud and simply not hire them. I'd say that if you hear the same band play at painfully loud volume at two separate affairs, you should resolve to never hire them. If the community did this, things would change rather quickly. This would be a lot more effective than having the band agree to keep the volume down, and then having the ba'al simcha -- who presumably is busy hosting the affair -- monitor the volume the entire time.

Also, in many situations, the band doesn't get the opportunity to do a sound check before they start playing and feedback from the guests about the volume level is welcomed. It should go without saying that, if the band is too loud, then polite, respectful interaction is more likely to achieve results then the self-righteous rudeness that is often directed our way -- usually, by people who aren't dancing and have chosen to carry on a conversation directly in front of the speakers instead of stepping off to the side.

In any event, the solution to the problem is not to demonize musicians, and promote 'sinas chinam!"