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Posts Tagged ‘Vienna Philharmonic’

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Covid-19 guidance seems to change every few days. In the beginning, we were very anxious about wiping down every little thing with Clorox. Now we are more worried about the droplets we breathe in and whether the kids’ schools have adequate air circulation.

Performers worry, too, which is why one European orchestra armed itself with facts before bringing in an audience.

Eva Amsen reports at Forbes, “Last week, violinist Daniel Froschauer was in Salzburg with the Vienna Philharmonic, of which he is also the Chairman. The orchestra played at the Salzburg Festival the entire month of August, under strict regulations to ensure that the musicians and their audience are at minimal risk of catching or spreading the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. …

The Vienna Philharmonic was one of the first professional orchestras to return to rehearsals and performances since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t carried out their own small research study into the way droplets disperse on stage while musicians play. …

“The case of a choir rehearsal in Washington state back in March was a wake-up call for many musical ensembles. The choir thought they were prepared. They didn’t hug, they stood six feet apart throughout their two-and-a-half-hour rehearsal, and they didn’t share food during the break. Despite their precautions, 53 members of the 61-piece choir caught Covid-19, and two died.

“If such a spread could happen at a choir rehearsal, then an orchestra or band rehearsal – particularly one with wind and brass instruments – might pose a similar risk. The virus can be passed on through tiny airborne droplets called aerosols from an infected individual’s mouth or nose. …

“Until a few months ago, we knew very little about how wind instruments spread droplets. It was only since the Covid-19 pandemic that orchestras and other ensembles suddenly needed to understand exactly how singing or playing instruments could spread the virus so that they could mitigate the risk. …

“The Vienna Philharmonic enlisted the help of physician Fritz Sterz. Initially, Sterz and Froschauer hoped that the Vienna Philharmonic members were immune already. The orchestra had passed through Wuhan on a tour of Asia in late 2019, perhaps already encountering the virus there. But this didn’t seem to be the case: Only one member of the orchestra tested positive in an antibody test.

“The next step was to figure out how rehearsals were putting them at risk, by determining how aerosols were formed around their instruments. …

“Sterz and the orchestra found a creative way to visualise the aerosols’ movement. Each musician was placed in front of a dark background and wore a device up their nose to produce aerosols as they breathed.

While playing their instruments, the musicians dispersed the droplets, and a photographer captured images of the cloud of aerosols surrounding each musician.

“By measuring the dispersal of the droplets for each instrument, Sterz was able to get a sense of which musicians created the largest air flow around them. Unsurprisingly, it was the wind musicians. …

“In lieu of the traditional peer review process that follows most scientific studies, the Vienna Philharmonic worked with a notary to verify that they carried out the procedures as they said they did, and that the results were what they measured. It wasn’t the way research is usually done, but it was enough to convince the Austrian government.

“In May, Froschauer got a call from the Austrian Prime Minister. The Vienna Philharmonic was allowed to rehearse, record and perform again, albeit under very strict conditions. To make it work, the musicians are regularly tested, stay a safe distance apart on stage, wear masks when they have to be near each other in the hallways, and limit the size of the audience. …

“In the United States, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the College Band Directors National Association funded the Performing Arts Aerosol Study to determine the best recommendations for school bands, orchestras and other performing arts groups returning to practice this fall term.

Shelly Miller, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, is one of the lead researchers on the study. She explains, … ‘Once we knew what the flow looked like, we probed those flows to measure the particles in the flow.’ …

“From the preliminary results, the Performing Arts Aerosol Study concluded that certain safety precautions needed to be put in place before bands and school orchestras could return to rehearsals.

“It’s worth noting here that these various studies into the spread of aerosols between musicians nicely illustrate how the pandemic has changed the pace of scientific research. Normally, research is slow and the process of verifying, publishing and reviewing the work can be slower than the studies itself. But everything was different this summer. Music groups needed advice about returning to rehearsals and pushed for the research to be carried out, soon. …

“ ‘It’s really intense,’ says Miller.” More at Forbes, here.

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