Coronavirus restrictions affect which musical instruments bands can play

Instrumental Music Program Jazz Band members Asha Cardillo, Casey Magnussen, Jess Hill and Justin Ryu have been able to keep playing, while wind instruments in NSW have been banned due to COVID-19. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Instrumental Music Program Jazz Band members Asha Cardillo, Casey Magnussen, Jess Hill and Justin Ryu have been able to keep playing, while wind instruments in NSW have been banned due to COVID-19. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Who knew a spit valve would turn out to be the safest thing for an instrument during the coronavirus pandemic?

The sound of saxophones, clarinets, flutes and trumpets filled the air at music rehearsals and lessons around Canberra this week, but musicians in NSW have been banned from doing the same. The NSW government's decision to ban the band, or at least part of it, this week has created confusion in the industry, including in Canberra where woodwinds are free to play.

NSW Health officials say the decision to ban woodwind instruments from schools was based on the theory droplets are expelled more from wind instruments due to the air being able to pass through more easily.

Brass instruments, along with percussion and string instruments, have not been affected by the ban.

While brass instruments have spit valves, which empty out condensation that comes from the player, droplets are more likely to stay inside the instrument due to the air being produced having to travel through bends to come out.

Many bands in Canberra such as the Instrumental Music Program's Jazz band, which resumed playing together at the start of Term 3, have been back at rehearsals for several weeks and have been carrying out social distancing.

Despite the decision from NSW, the ACT Education Directorate said it would not mean any changes in Canberra.

"Bands, choirs and other performances are currently permitted within ACT schools, in line with the protocols established as part of the ACT Education Directorate COVID-19 road map," a directorate spokesman said.

However, music teachers and conductors in the ACT have expressed confusion over the reasoning behind NSW's decision to ban wind instruments in schools.

Canberra-based music teacher and conductor Neille Williams said she was disappointed at news of the ban in NSW.

"There's no clear indication that playing in band is more dangerous than any other social activity," she said. "It seems with music a much harder line has been taken."

Conductor of the Australian Wind Symphony Geoff Grey.

Conductor of the Australian Wind Symphony Geoff Grey.

Conductor of the Australian Wind Symphony Geoff Grey said while there were a number of studies assessing whether wind instruments contributed to coronavirus transmissions, the jury was still out.

"Current peer-reviewed research is sparse and cannot yet comprehensively state the act of producing airflow through instruments is a dangerous spreader," Mr Grey said. "In the environment of beginner or amateur musicians, however, there exists a potential for less control of how air and subsequently aerosols are produced and directed."

A spokesman for NSW Health said a precautionary approach was needed until more information about coronavirus emerged.

"While brass instruments are thought to be of lower risk than woodwind instruments as the turns in the brass instruments may slow the flow of droplets, there may still be a risk," the spokesman said.

"While we are not aware of an outbreak associated with playing wind instruments, there have been outbreaks associated with choirs and group singing."

A recent study released yet to be peer-reviewed by Brass Bands England said playing brass instruments released fewer particles compared to breathing or singing.

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Mr Grey said the potential spread of coronavirus from a setting such as a band rehearsal wasn't just dependent on playing an instrument.

"Instrumental shape is a variation worth noting, with some more directly permitting airflow than others," he said.

Murrumbateman-based musician Jenny Geldart said while she could understand the reasons for the ban, contingency measures should also be implemented.

"We do need to maintain caution, but at the same time, ensembles shouldn't have to stop playing together," she said.

This story Virus restrictions even come down to which instruments we can play first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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