Houston Symphony and Rice University partner to study air flow of wind and brass instruments

Posted on: July 21, 2020

Rice University researcher Vivek Boominathan, left, uses a high-speed camera as Houston Symphony Principal Trumpet Mark Hughes performs, July 8, 2020. For a study by the Houston Symphony and Rice University on how air is transmitted during an orchestra concert, Boominathan is using computational imaging techniques to evaluate the risk of spreading coronavirus. Photo by John Shapley / Houston Chronicle

“What happens to your breath when you play an instrument?,” writes Wei-Huan Chen in the Houston Chronicle on July 9. “The Houston Symphony has partnered with researchers at Rice University to … study how air particles are spread during a symphonic concert, thus giving orchestras a road map to reopening safely. The study [is] expected to be released later this summer…. ‘This is an urgent matter,’ said Robert Yekovich, dean of the Shepard School of Music at Rice. ‘Orchestras are waiting for information on what they’ll be able to do eight weeks from now.’ Rice University engineering professors Ashok Veeraraghavan and Ashutosh Sabharwal, Yekovich, and Houston Symphony CEO John Mangum penned the proposal for this study…. They’re using ‘Schlieren photography,’ which … would be able to see just how far an instrumentalist’s breath goes when he or she plays…. Mangum … said the symphony will use the results of the Rice study—along with other similar studies—to help draft guidelines for reopening…. ‘It’s a great first step,’ he said. ‘How do we safely sit musicians together onstage? If there are 10 studies that tell you the same, you start to feel better. We’re contributing to building a body of evidence.’ ”