Jul 20, 2021

Aerosol dispersal in wind instruments

The pandemic has presented serious challenges for education. As a clarinet and saxophone teacher, I have become very much aware in the last year of the drawbacks and limitations of online music teaching. I have been trying to evaluate the relative safety of teaching in person again. I am fully vaccinated, and would expect that of any students I see in person, but that doesn't guarantee total safety.

Opinions of my fellow teachers span the full range. Although my community (Santa Clara County, California) has a high vaccination rate and relatively low incidence of infection, conditions are constantly changing.

One piece of the puzzle is to what degree we should be concerned about aerosol dispersal from wind instruments. Here are links to four studies available on the internet, with some takeaways. 

I am not implying any conclusion as to the safety of in-person lessons, as there are other important considerations besides just aerosol dispersal and safe distancing.

1)  https://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2021/june/perform2-study.html - University of Bristol 

"Aerosol generated by playing woodwind and brass instruments is less than that produced when vocalising (speaking and singing) and is no different than a person breathing, new research has found."

2)  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7492159/ - University of Minnesota 

"Specifically, tuba produces fewer aerosols than normal breathing, while the concentrations from bassoon, piccolo, flute, bass clarinet, French horn, and clarinet stay within the range of normal breathing and speaking. Trumpet, oboe, and bass trombone tend to generate more aerosols than speaking."

A second phase of this project is described in this article, with an interesting observation:

"In the second phase of the study, Hong’s team used probes to measure how far the aerosols travel from each instrument inside Orchestra Hall. They found that the flow was very confined, and the aerosols dispersed quickly. At only 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) away from the instrument outlet, the aerosol concentration was less than 10 percent of what it was at the source, and no instruments showed an appreciable influence of flow beyond 30 centimeters (about 1 foot).

Part of this, the researchers said, is due to the human thermal plume effect, which refers to the upward air flow created by a person’s temperature being higher than the air around them. The majority of the aerosols are carried upward by this draft.
“The second part of the study is to help understand where the aerosols go,” Hong explained. “They’re not necessarily spreading horizontally—they are rising vertically. So, this will help us to optimize the placement of filters and the social distancing between individuals.”
Because of the thermal plume effect, they found the most efficient placement of filters would likely be above the musicians—resulting in a 95 percent particle extraction rate. Another strategy could be to reduce the temperature inside Orchestra Hall, which would increase the temperature difference between the people and the environment, ultimately making the plume stronger and the filters more effective."

3)  https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.01.25.20248984v1.full - Bavarian Symphony Orchestra (measured extent of aerosol cloud) (preliminary paper, not peer-reviewed) 

"A distance of 2 m to the front and 1.5 m to the side should be recommended for trumpet and clarinet, 3 m to the front for the cross flutes in an orchestral formation. Our findings could be applied to other orchestral instruments, so other brass instruments such as tuba, trombone or horn may be similar to the trumpet. It could be expected that an oboe and a bassoon have the same or less dispersion than a clarinet. The largest distance occurred during playing the cross flutes. For the risk assessment, the individual playing style, different instrument-specific playing techniques as well as convectional flows in the specific rooms and at least the accumulation of aerosols during playing should also be taken into account."

4)https://www.makingmusic.org.uk/sites/makingmusic.org.uk/files/Measurement%20of%20aerosol%20from%20brass%20and%20woodwind%20instruments%20.pdf - University of Southern Denmark

"The emission of aerosol measured from brass and woodwind instruments was very low, and almost at the same level as background concentrations. Other experiments have shown very little airflow and very small aerosol concentrations at short distances from brass and woodwind instruments. Based on the actual measurements and the other studies mentioned 1 meter distance playing brass and woodwind instruments seems to be safe with respect to the risk of spreading aerosol from the instruments. This assumes that musicians blow towards the back of fellow musicians.

Please note: To be clear, I'm listing these studies for the benefit those who may be interested, but I am not trying to make a case for immediately resuming in-person instruction. Other factors would influence that decision, and teachers will weigh these factors as they see fit. The papers listed above have more detailed information than the short quotes I have provided. If you are interested, please follow the links and read the articles more carefully.

Jun 29, 2021

Review: Scaling New Heights: Major Scale Duets on Keyboard Classics, by Laura Spitzer

Here's a new publication that piano teachers and their students will enjoy, Laura Spitzer's Scaling New Heights - Major Scale Duets on Keyboard Classics. This book presents an innovative, fun approach to learning scales. It's a clever idea, and I wish I had though of it! (Full disclosure - Laura is my sister.)

18 well-known classical pieces are arranged as duets for students and teachers to play together. The teacher ("secondo") parts consist of short arrangements of the pieces. The student ("primo") parts consist of major scales, rhythmically adapted to harmonize with the teacher's part. 

The pieces are in their original keys, and have been chosen to cover all 12 major scales, moving around the circle of fifths. Each primo part presents at least two ascending and descending runs of the scale.

In case the teacher is not available to play the secondo part, or as a practice aid, recordings of all of the pieces are available online, at lauraspitzer.com. There are two sets of recordings - one set with both parts being played, and another with only the teacher's secondo parts.

Here's a sample:

The student parts (scales) may be played with either left or right hand or both, in a higher or lower octave if student and teacher are sharing a keyboard, or in any octave if two separate keyboards are being used.

Since the student parts are consistently scalar, the duets also serve as a basic exercise in rhythm reading, and in synchronizing with a duet partner.

Pieces include The Entertainer (Joplin), Soldier's March (Schumann), Canon in D (Pachelbel), Humoresque (Dvorak), Gymnopedie No. 1 (Satie), and more - 18 titles, with additional alternate versions of three of the titles.

Although this book is written for pianists, I can certainly see a way to adapt it for other instruments (like the ones I teach, clarinet and saxophone). It would be easy enough to use the online secondo recordings, and ask the student to transpose the primo parts as appropriate for Bb or Eb instruments. This could serve as a lesson in transposing from concert key, and shouldn't be particularly hard for students, since the primo parts move scalewise. For violin or flute, no transposing would be necessary!

Scaling New Heights is available on Amazon - just click the link. For more about the author, visit lauraspitzer.com.

Mar 22, 2021

Review: Six Bach Cello Suites, arranged for saxophone by Trent Kynaston

Over the past year of social isolation, teaching via Zoom, I and some of my students have gotten a lot of enjoyment playing saxophone transcriptions of the six Bach Cello Suites. We've been using Six Suites for Violoncello Solo, transcribed and edited by Trent Kynaston (Advance Music, 1995). The music is perfect for our present situation - Bach wrote the Suites for unaccompanied cello; the pieces are self-contained, with harmony and counterpoint embedded in the melodic lines. The music is uplifting and satisfying in its beauty and logical perfection. 

As teaching material, it's very effective. In normal times, I use duets quite a bit in teaching. It's not possible to play duets on Zoom, due to lag, but the unaccompanied Bach pieces can be taught through demonstration, and don't need any accompaniment to sound complete. In Kynaston's transcriptions, the pieces mostly sit well on the saxophone, and are just challenging enough for an advanced high school player.

Saxophonists are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to classical repertoire. Because the instrument was invented in the 1840s, it wasn't in existence for Bach, Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. Even through the 1800s, it was slow to be accepted in the world of classical music. If I want to familiarize students with classical "common practice" music, I've used pieces like the Ferling etudes (originally for oboe), or Kuhlau flute duets (playable on saxophone). Kynaston's Bach transcriptions have really filled a need. I can recommend them to teachers, as well as to saxophonists who would enjoy hearing Bach "from the inside," so to speak.

The book is not entirely error-free. One note puzzled me enough that I did some internet research, looking for an original manuscript, to check that note. In his preface, Kynaston states that his edition, as well as all others since 1825, is based on a manuscript "in Bach's own hand, held in the Prussian State Library in Berlin." He states that the manuscript showed no articulation marks, and that he had added articulations that are stylistically appropriate, and effective for saxophone. He advises readers to feel free to change them, if we prefer. For the most part, I like his articulations as printed.

The question of original sources led me to jsbachcellosuites.com, a great website that, among other things, displays facsimiles of the four most definitive extant manuscripts of the Cello Suites. One was copied by Anna Magdalena Bach (Johann Sebastian's second wife), another by Johann Peter Kellner. Both of these copies were created in J. S. Bach's lifetime. The other two manuscripts were created somewhat later, by persons unknown. There is no known existing manuscript by J. S. Bach himself. Kynaston was undoubtedly referring to the version by Anna Magdalena. This version has served as the basis for most (but not all) of the editions printed in the last two centuries. Kynaston was not the only editor over the years to have mistakenly assumed that Anna Magdalena's version was in J. S. Bach's hand.

Anna Magdalena's version does in fact show slurs, which may represent bowing indications, rather than slurs as wind instrument players understand them. But still, bowing decisions do result in certain phrasing. Articulation and phrasing are intertwined concepts. Unfortunately, the exact placement of her slur marks is often unclear. The slur markings in this source might not actually have been so useful for a sax edition.

Digging a little deeper, I ran across a 2016 doctoral thesis by Zoltán Szabó. It's an extensive exploration of the sources for the Cello Suites, as well as many of the editions that have been printed between 1824 and 2016. If you're interested in some state-of-the-art scholarship on this subject, it's great reading.

Szabó makes a strong case that although we have no definitive source for Bach's exact intentions, the manuscript by Kellner may be the closest that we have, as it may have been copied from an original manuscript that J. S. Bach created at a later date than the version that was copied by Anna Magdalena. Szabó discusses articulations, but does not treat that subject extensively; he considers it beyond the scope of his thesis, which already runs to 272 pages.

Even if we allow that Anna Magdalena's slur markings might be helpful in deciding on appropriate articulations, the extant sources and the various printed versions are nowhere close to agreeing. Below is a page from Szabó's thesis, comparing markings for just one measure, as shown in various sources and editions. Source A is Anna Magdalena; source B is Kellner; sources C and D are the other 18th-century manuscripts; source E is the first printed edition (perhaps based on a different, lost early manuscript).

All the examples are marked differently:

Although the question of appropriate articulations for the Suites has been the subject of endless scholarly discussion, it seems that in the end, players have to consider different printed and recorded sources, and make their own decisions. 

The Kynaston edition can be purchased from Amazon through this link. The Cello Suites have also been transcribed for other instruments, including guitar, mandolin, viola, violin, horn, double bass, clarinet, flute, tenor banjo, trombone, and organ.

Jan 23, 2021

Medical research indicates reduced life span for saxophonists - Joke, or just really bad science?

I just ran across a 1999 article from the British medical journal The BMJ, presenting a purported study of "the impact of too much sax on the mortality of famous jazz musicians."

The article states that saxophonists can be expected to have a reduced lifespan, probably due to frequent use of circular breathing: "Raised pressure in the neck region can increase mortality either by reducing blood supply to the brain (cerebrovascular ischaemia) or venous stasis (thromboembolism)."

You can read the article here.

The authors of this article appear to be idiots. As scientific method, this study fails in basic ways: 

  • Their initial assumption, that circular breathing is a common technique, is just wrong, as they could have ascertained by asking any professional sax player. 
  • They ignore or dismiss other probable factors affecting longevity: environment, socioeconomic status, the state of medicine in the early 1900s, stress of a touring musician's lifestyle.
  • Their sample (813 musicians born between 1882 and 1974) is not particularly large, and is not representative of the actual sax-playing population.

At first reading, I was astounded by what appeared to be incredibly bad science, from authors who had no idea what they were talking about. Upon further reflection, though, I'm pretty sure the authors were just having some fun.

There are a number of giveaways. For example, the caption to the article's Figure 1 states that in circular breathing,

Intake of breath fills the chest and stomach; cheeks and neck are inflated when air is halfway up the chest. While forcing air from cheeks and neck into the instrument, the player simultaneously breathes in through the nose to the bottom of the stomach.

Note: we breathe with lungs, not stomach. 

Figure 2 indicates that not even one saxophonist in the sample reached the age of 70 (a strong indication that the authors just made up the figures, and did no actual statistical analysis at all). 

There were a number of tongue-in-cheek tipoffs, including the statement,

Further research is, however, needed in this area: it is anticipated that attendance at a number of national and international concert venues would resolve this issue, and the researchers are currently seeking funding for this.
Fittingly, the authors of the sax-mortality article closed with a quote from Sonny Rollins, 69 years old at the time of the article, and 90 years old now.

According to Wikipedia, The BMJ is a respected journal of medical research. However, they have a history of printing less-than-serious articles, for example, a 1974 article describing a condition known as cello scrotum, said to afflict male cellists. Although meant as a joke, this article was apparently taken seriously by some in the medical community. 35 years later, in 2009, the author finally wrote a letter to The BMJ revealing that the article had been a hoax.

Unfortunately, the article on sax-mortality was likewise believed by quite a few people, as you can see in the responses section in the online article. It's pretty amusing, and worth a read. At least a couple of "real" medical research articles have taken this one seriously enough to cite it as a reference (click here).

I first ran across the sax-mortality article in a reprint that was posted by the NIH, without any notice that it might be a joke. That wasn't helpful. We don't need any more spurious medical information, particularly concerning saxophones.

Some people will believe anything. 

Dec 27, 2020

Tunes published in 1925 will be entering public domain in 2021

As of January 1, 2021, U.S. copyright will expire for works published in 1925, including the following songs: 

Always (Irving Berlin)
Remember (Irving Berlin)
Dinah (Harry Akst)
Sometimes I'm Happy (Vincent Youmans)
Squeeze Me (Fats Waller) (not to be confused with "Just Squeeze Me" by Duke Ellington)
Sweet Georgia Brown (Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard)
Manhattan (Rodgers and Hart - aka "I'll Take Manhattan")
Yes Sir, That's My Baby (Walter Donaldson)
Don't Bring Lulu (Billy Rose, Lew Brown, Ray Henderson)
If You Knew Susie (Buddy DeSylva)
Davenport Blues (Bix Beiderbecke)
Sweet and Lowdown (George and Ira Gershwin)
That Certain Feeling (George and Ira Gershwin)
Bye Bye Blues (Fred Hamm)
Paddlin' Madelin' Home (Harry M. Woods)

This year, the big ones would seem to be Sweet Georgia Brown, Bye Bye Blues, Manhattan, the two Berlin tunes, and the two Gershwin tunes.

In the realm of classical music, Gershwin's "Piano Concerto in F" is losing copyright protection. Other modern classical works entering the public domain are listed on the Wikipedia page 1925 in Music, including pieces by Copland, Elgar, Prokofiev, Respighi, Shostakovitch, Sibelius, Stravinsky, Villa-Lobos, and others.

United States copyright law is quite restrictive as compared to many other countries. According to the provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1988 (aka "Mickey Mouse Protection Act"), works published or registered before 1978 remain under copyright for 95 years.

With the passage of the 1988 law, the cutoff date for works entering the public domain became 1922, with any works published in 1923 or later remaining under copyright. Beginning in 2019, however, the clock began running again, with each new year bringing one more year of songs and other works into the public domain. Over the next 20 years or so, most "Golden Age" jazz standards will lose copyright protection.

Many other countries have shorter terms of copyright; one common formula is the life of the author plus fifty years (see this table). For example, in Canada you can record songs written by Wes Montgomery (d. 1968) or John Coltrane (d. 1967), without paying royalties.

Last December I posted an article similar to this one, listing tunes that became public domain in 2020. I'll probably do a yearly update - unless Congress messes with copyright law again, to rescue Mickey Mouse from becoming fair game in 2024.


Some internet sources show the copyright date for "Bye Bye Blues" as 1930. Although this is the copyright date shown on the original sheet music, the first recording (by composer Fred Hamm) was released in 1925. According to U.S. copyright law, recordings publicly released can establish the effective copyright date, the same as printed material.

Wikipedia cites 1924 as the year that Harry M. Woods wrote "Paddlin' Madelin' Home." However, this appears to be incorrect. Secondhandsongs.com shows specific dates in 1925 for both publication and for first live performance; the original sheet music also shows 1925.

Cliff Edwards, aka "Ukelele Ike," a popular entertainer in the 1920s, was the one who made "Paddlin' Madelin' Home" into a hit. Edwards had an interesting life in show biz; his Wikipedia bio is worth checking out. Among many other accomplishments, he was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney's "Pinocchio," singing When You Wish Upon a Star

Copyright Law of the United States (Wikipedia)

Dec 22, 2020

"Children's Games,” “Chovendo na Roseira,” and “Double Rainbow”

Here are a few more observations about one of my favorite Tom Jobim compositions (discussed in a previous post).

"Children's Games," "Chovendo na Roseira," and "Double Rainbow" are alternate titles for the same Jobim song. The chronology seems to go like this:

March, 1970 - The song, titled "Children's Games," was first introduced as a part of the soundtrack for the 1970 film The Adventurers. At that point it was an instrumental piece. In composing it, Jobim adapted musical material from two Debussy pieces: "Reverie," and "Le plus que lente, valse." "Children’s Games," along with other melodies by Jobim, was arranged by Eumir Deodato for the soundtrack (apparently this is the reason that some internet sources credit the song’s first recording to Deodato). The song is played with a swing feel in Jobim's versions, but with a straight beat in some later recordings by others.

July, 1970 - Jobim included it in his album "Stone Flower," again with the title "Children’s Games," and again as an instrumental.

1971 - Osmir Milito recorded the same song as "Chovendo na Roseira." It now had lyrics in Portuguese, by Jobim. The new title (in English, "Raining on the Rosebush") reflected the theme of the lyrics. Also in 1971, Luis Carlos Vinhas recorded it with the same title, with the same lyrics. I don't know which of these recordings came first. 

1974 - Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘77 recorded the song with English lyrics by Gene Lees, a fairly close translation of the Portuguese lyrics. The song was re-titled "Double Rainbow." This new English title referenced the English lyrics.

Also in 1974, the song was recorded by Jobim and Elis Regina as part of the "Elis and Tom" album, under the name "Chovendo na Roseira." Elis sings the lyrics in Portuguese.

1980 - Jobim’s album "Terra Brasilis" included the song as an instrumental, arranged by Claus Ogermanunder the title "Chovendo na Roseira." 

For sound clips of various early versions of "Chovendo," see this nice writeup on the "Brazilliance" website.

For my previous post on "Chovendo," with some Youtube clips including the Debussy pieces, click here. 

Over the years, the song has been recorded by many other artists, under one or another of the three titles. Joe Henderson’s album "Double Rainbow," a tribute to Jobim, oddly enough did not include this song. I wonder if Joe recorded it, but ultimately decided not to include it in the album?

Recently I noticed in Howard Hanson’s Symphony #1 (1922) an appropriation of the same Debussy phrase from "Le plus que lente, valse" (1910) that Jobim used in “Chovendo.” The theme occurs at 2:00 in the clip below:

Interestingly, Howard Hanson gives this phrase to the flute, while the original Debussy piece was for solo piano (Debussy also arranged the piece for strings). In the original 1970 arrangement of "Children’s Games," arranger Eumir Deodato also gives Jobim’s extremely similar phrase to the flute (on the repeat), as does Claus Ogerman in his 1980 arrangement. It’s a perfect orchestration choice for this phrase. 

A few questions are left unanswered: Was the flute orchestration for the phrase Deodato's idea, or Jobim's? Did Deodato or Jobim know the Hanson piece as well as the Debussy? Or was the flute orchestration in Jobim’s piece just a coincidence? And did Hanson realize he was quoting Debussy?