CSU researchers investigate dangers of wind instruments during COVID-19


In recent Denver guidelines allowing live music in restaurants, wind instruments are prohibited. As a result, local jazz venues Nocturne and Dazzle had to increase some scheduled performances in order to meet the city’s mandate.

The restriction did not suit Denver trumpeter Gabriel Mervine, who performed regularly at both Nocturne and Dazzle as well as in other venues. While Mervine says he’s not a scientist, he’s an expert trumpeter. So he made a video, which Nocturne posted, that showed him playing his trumpet next to a candle, to see if he could put it out.

“I made this video of me playing to explain how air is actually used in the trumpet and quickly dispersed around the end of the instrument,” says Mervine. “To just create a bit of awareness and hopefully educate some people who might be able to make a decision. We try to respect all social guidelines. And that’s why, like everyone else, we just want them to make sense, for the guidelines to be somehow backed up by reason and scientific evidence – and when you don’t give any reason or scientific evidence, the guidelines decisions seem a bit arbitrary. ”

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Tuba players celebrate Christmas outside the DCPA.

Kenneth Hamblin III

Donald Rossa, owner of Dazzle, says state-referenced horn and antler data is not the primary research on the topic.

“Clearly and simply, musicians and venues are just easy fruits that the state can designate as [examples of officials] make an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, ”Rossa said. “It just seems like guidelines are created and not applied in the same way – and in this case, for no reason. ”

New Colorado State University study is expected to shed light on how airborne particles and droplets are projected by those who play wind instruments and brass, as well as singers, actors and dancers , and whether steps can be taken to protect both performers and members of the public from COVID -19.

The study, “Reducing Bioaerosol Emissions and Exposures in the Performing Arts: A Scientific Roadmap for a Safer Return From COVID-19,” is led by John Volckens, professor of mechanical engineering at the Walter Scott Jr. College of Engineering at CSU, and Dan Goble, director of the CSU School of Music, Drama and Dance.

Goble says the study is designed to provide scientifically verified data that can be used to encourage policymakers to allow artists of all types – whether they are wind performers, singers, actors or dancers – to take the stage again. “We’re very lucky to have a combination of a strong performing arts school here and some really wonderful scientists,” he explains. “CSU is a level 1 research institution, in addition to having very beautiful performing arts facilities and programs. So this is a great opportunity for us to work in several disciplines and try to find answers. We’re not a place to make recommendations to people on what to do, but what we can do is provide data and hopefully solutions. ”

CSU researchers hope to have preliminary data by mid-August that will help inform decisions as colleges, universities and public schools reopen for the fall. “These are pretty serious things in public school education,” Goble says. “And we really care about making sure that our performing arts programs in public schools are sustainable and then continue.”

In about two to three weeks, the research team will begin accepting volunteers for the study; the objective is to test a hundred wind instrumentalists of all kinds, including those who play saxophone, flute, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet and trombone, as well as singers. Volunteers will go to a human exhibition facility, built by a team of undergraduates studying mechanical engineering as part of their senior synthesis project, at CSU’s Powerhouse Energy Campus. The chamber, one of the few that exists, will be used to measure human aerosol emissions and exposures in a clean and versatile environment. Volckens and his team will use a bespoke computer control and data acquisition system to track human release of aerosols of different sizes, concentrations and chemical compositions.

Although there have been studies in Germany and Austria that measure airflow from wind instruments, Goble says the CSU team will specifically measure aerosol emissions.

“Until now, there has been little evidence of aerosol transmission when playing an instrument or when you sing, or there are two actors on stage who speak very loudly,” notes t -he. “How much do they put out? Where is it going? How long is there in the room? Those are the kinds of things we try to answer in the study.

Goble, who has a background in music performance, says he’s working with Volckens to figure out what kind of experiments to conduct. “If I play the saxophone and there is a piano behind me, depending on the airflow in the room, is there a chance that droplets or aerosols could move behind me?” Goble asks. “I can help shape these experiences from a musical point of view.”

Ultimately, Goble hopes the study will give lawmakers the information they need to keep musicians performing.

“The reality is we’re here for the long haul, no matter how long it takes,” he says. “And our goal is to keep the performing arts viable in our lives. It is an essential part of humanity that we must maintain. ”

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