Brass band music and Corona: Are brass band musicians special virus slingshots?

SI’m sure it’s possible to go a season without Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, the third movement of which uses the brass with an effect that is not for the faint of heart. And yes, the Metamorphoses for 23 solo strings by Richard Strauss could easily be performed more often. However, insofar as it is true what the researchers led by Quentin Brosseau from the University of Pennsylvania write in the introduction to their study just published in “Physics of Fluids”, namely that orchestras have switched their programs to string ensembles due to the pandemic, this can easily be compared to the Explain difficulty in playing a wind instrument while wearing a mask.

On the other hand: Shouldn’t the bells of the resonating pipes bundle the potentially infectious droplets in the breath of a trumpeter or bassoonist and blow them into the environment from an even greater range? In any case, common sense easily imagines such an infected brass band musician as a special virus slingshot. And not just this one. In April 2021, a recommendation by the German Music Council in the “Scientific Basics” section read: “Compared to speaking, significantly higher quantities of aerosol particles are emitted when singing, with wind instruments there are well over a thousand times as many (except for flutes).”

Brosseau and his team cannot confirm this. They monitored the trumpets of the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians’ instruments while playing with particle counters and used laser beams to visualize and track the flow patterns of the expelled air. In fact, the aerosol load of trumpets and tubas was increased over background, but only by a factor of two. For bassoon, clarinet and oboe, the factor was only 1.2, while the flutes were in between at 1.6. The authors explain the difference between brass and woodwind instruments with the loss of particles through the tone holes of the latter.

The conclusion of the researchers: Once again, common sense was wrong. Wind blowers do not spread any viruses with their breathing air any further than someone who speaks normally. The currents escaping the bells are far slower than what a human sneezes or coughs, and two meters is a safe distance, even from the mouth of a trombone in the Scherzo of Bruckner’s Seventh. However, only as far as the risk of infection is concerned.


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