covid-19 music study cu

Graduate student Teyha Stockman tapes her clarinet performance to test for aerosol movement and dispersion from her instrument in a mechanical engineering laboratory on the CU Boulder campus.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder are working to develop the future of musical performances, discovering if and how playing instruments can spread COVID-19.

The research team is trying to determine if wind instruments create aerosols — droplets of liquid that can spread the virus — and if so, where the aerosols come out of instruments and how to make practicing and performing safer.

“Engineers help solve problems, and we really want to help solve this problem,” said Shelly Miller, lead researcher and mechanical engineering professor.

The team was commissioned by a conglomerate of 120 performing arts groups to conduct the research.

The project began in June and will conclude in December. However, the first phase is already complete: The research determined that wind instruments do generate aerosols.

Miller’s research also determined that singing and theater performances create aerosols after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked a COVID-19 outbreak in Washington to a choir rehearsal.

No recorded outbreak has been linked to an instrumental ensemble.

Now, the goal of the study is to find out how musical ensembles can perform together safely, during and after the pandemic.

“They wanted to know whether wind instruments are as dangerous as singing and what we could do to make them safer,” Miller said. “They are literally trying to save music.”

The researchers are looking at how many aerosols are produced, where they leave instruments and how they move through an indoor space during musical performances.

Based on early results, Miller suggests musicians wear a mask while playing, using a mask with a small slit for the mouth but still covering the nose.

Miller also recommends social distancing while playing, playing in well-ventilated areas and covering the bell of instruments with a well-fitted cover of multiple layers of tightly woven material.

“It’s not going to be just one thing to make you safe,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a layered approach.”

Band students at CU began applying these practices this week as the third and final part of the study.

The research team consists of Miller, mechanical engineering graduate student and clarinet player Tehya Stockman, assistant professor in mechanical and environmental engineering Marina Vance and professor in atmospheric and oceanic sciences Darin Toohey. The team is also collaborating with researchers from the University of Maryland.

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