Classical musicians are the most pragmatic people in the world. On every tour, unforeseen problems have to be solved spontaneously, a wrong hotel booking, a bulky instrument that gets stuck in customs control – everyone has to back off. Musicians are also curious, they want to know everything exactly. And so the Berliner Philharmoniker had research carried out months ago to find out where the sources of danger for infection lie at a concert, what role the active musicians play in this, and how high the risk of infection is among one another. The result? At least the audience can feel safe if the safety distances are observed. Safer than in the subway, even safer than at home.
Now the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation has followed suit. A research group from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and the University of Erlangen, together with the BR Symphony Orchestra (BRSO), had an even more detailed investigation than the Berliners, which instrument is specifically the most dangerous when it comes to the spread of Corona. Of course, it’s mainly about wind instruments, the other musicians can protect themselves and others with masks.
It is hardly disputed that aerosols, i.e. the invisible mist from the tiny droplets of the air we breathe, are the decisive factor for infection. This is denied, however, by researchers at Harvard Medical School. They point out that measles is transmitted by aerosols much more often than Sars-CoV-2.
The experimental set-up for the BR Symphony Orchestra looked like this: The wind musicians went into a dark room, took a deep drag from a nicotine-free e-cigarette and then blew into their instrument. In the light beam of the measuring devices it was now possible to determine with centimeter precision how far the aerosols were distributed around the musician. The surprise winner was the gentle transverse flute, which in the past 400 years has never been trusted to do anything bad. But now it turns out to be the main virus thrower, far ahead of the trumpet, which was actually suspected.
The flute sends a tsunami of droplets unhindered into the room
Because while most wind players direct the air flow into their instrument, the flutist directs the canalized breathing air into the room just through the opening in the mouthpiece. It’s like blowing on an empty bottle. So hardly a droplet of aerosol gets into the instrument, while a droplet tsunami rushes unhindered into the room. With brass players, on the other hand, the viruses have a long way to travel from the mouthpiece through all sorts of windings, where they sometimes remain condensed, and finally through the horn.
That is why almost all distribution values are below the currently valid specifications of the professional association. Just the flute, it has to be three meters away from the person in front and two meters to the side. All other musicians can snuggle up to a distance of one meter and fifty. Cooperatives and accident insurance companies will now take a closer look; it is about claims and liability claims, that is, a lot of money and responsibilities.
The BR-Symphoniker have now calculated the dangerous situation down to the last detail and can be satisfied. Of course, you will not be able to bring large symphonic works to the stage in the near and medium future. You may even have to adjust to a repertoire that tends to be chamber music in the long term. And there is nothing against it, the repertoire from the baroque to the modern is huge.