Can a smoker play the flute

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Aerosol study at the BRSO Flutes at a distance, trumpets a little closer

11/25/2020 by Antje Dörfner

How do aerosols and possibly viruses spread when playing wind instruments? Scientists from Munich and Erlangen have investigated this together with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The results are now available. They show that the required distances depend on the instrument and, in some cases, could also be smaller than previously envisaged in the context of hygiene regulations.

Image source: Bayerischer Rundfunk

Making music under Corona conditions is, if it is at all possible, quite arduous: If you are far apart, it is difficult to play well together. The new study now brings differentiation: depending on the instrument, the distances between wind players in the orchestra can be smaller than currently recommended - at least in a lateral direction. This is the result of an aerosol study carried out by scientists from the Ludwig Maximilians University Hospital in Munich and the Erlangen University Hospital together with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Basically, making music on wind instruments involves greater risks than with other instruments. Because when playing, aerosols are created that are blown into the air. That is why hygiene concepts for the musicians provide for large distances on the podium. After all, the aerosols floating in the air can carry viruses. So there is a risk that an infected blower could infect other people with the corona virus in this way.

Experiments make breath clouds visible

The current study investigated how far aerosols spread in the room when making music. In addition to experiments with singers from the Bavarian Radio Choir, the focus was also on wind instruments. Research was carried out into the distribution of the instruments trumpet, clarinet and flute. The aim was to make the aerosol clouds visible while making music and then to measure them. Musicians of the symphony orchestra were invited to individually play their instruments in a darkened room. Before doing this, they should pull on a so-called electric steamer. This is an e-cigarette that contained liquid without nicotine. In this way, breath clouds became visible, the movements of which could be recorded by high-speed cameras and laser light.

A safety distance of one and a half meters appears to be sufficient, in contrast to the two meters recommended so far - with the exception of the flute.
Matthias Echternach, Clinic for Ear, Nose and Throat Medicine at LMU Munich

Aerosols spread more towards the front

The tests showed: The aerosols are distributed more to the front than to the side with blowers. The distance to the front must therefore be greater than to the left and right. Two meters forward are usually necessary, one and a half to the side, says Matthias Echternach from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. These are slightly smaller distances than currently recommended by the employers' liability insurance association.

The flute creates a more intense aerosol cloud

Source: Bayerischer Rundfunk With the flute it was shown that the aerosols spread more widely than with the trumpet and clarinet. That is why the scientists suggest greater distances for the flute: three meters to the front and two meters to the side. The reason for this lies in the way the flute is played. The musicians blow through an opening. Therefore, the breath cloud can spread widely. With the trumpet, however, according to the researchers' knowledge, almost everything is retained in the instrument. Some of the aerosols condense inside the instrument. This results in a significantly lower spread of aerosols, explains fluid mechanic Stefan Kniesburges from the University of Erlangen.

Hope for new recommendations

The new study aims to provide information on how orchestras can work during the corona pandemic, and the results could be incorporated into new specifications for orchestral concerts when concerts are allowed again. The studies were funded by the Bavarian State Ministry for Science and Art. Corresponding research forms the basis for Art Minister Bernd Sibler to make responsible decisions: "The better we know about the corona virus, the more targeted we can take measures to ensure safe music-making," said the minister.

Repertoire could be broadened

Image source: Bayerischer Rundfunk Late romantic works with a large cast, such as the Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss or Gustav Mahler's symphonies, remain impossible even after the latest results during the pandemic: the stages are too small for the necessary distances. With the results of the study, however, new rules of distance could be defined that allow more musicians to be on the podium. That would in part expand the feasible repertoire.

Musicians could make music better

More importantly, even with smaller ensembles, the musicians would benefit from the shorter distances. Because they need good contact with one another in order to be able to interact while making music. For the solo clarinetist Christoper Corbett, who took part in the study, it would be a big step forward if the distances within a vocal group in a row - that is, to the left and right - could be reduced: "The musical and emotional communication with the This would make colleagues easier again, and that becomes audible, "the clarinetist is convinced of that.

With regard to the real rehearsal and performance conditions for making music, further studies are necessary in order to examine additional measures with regard to their potential for risk reduction and their acoustic effects.
Stefan Kniesburges, fluid mechanic

Ventilation remains important

Concert halls absolutely need good air conditioning, say the scientists. Because the ventilation of the room still plays a major role. The aerosols must not collect in the room air. Otherwise the gaps between the musicians are of no use either. With this study, the scientists did not investigate how the aerosols spread further in space, for example towards the audience. So far, they have only been concerned with spreading it to musicians. Further investigations are therefore desirable in order to make concerts as safe as possible even in times of pandemic.

Broadcast:"Allegro" on November 25, 2020 from 06:05 on BR-KLASSIK