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Diatribe: “Saxophone Lung”.

11/10/2013

SaxophoneOne of the elective courses that I took in college, believe it or not, was a class in musical instrument repair.  There was a gentleman who ran a shop across town from campus who was a wizard when it came to fixing instruments.  All the musicians, band directors and students in the city relied on him to keep their equipment in top condition.  Our professor managed to convince him to teach a small group of music education majors some basic skills in instrument repair.  After all, the ability to quickly repair a student’s instrument could be detrimental to their success as a musician.  A portion of the course focused on the cleaning and maintenance of various instruments using supplies and materials found around the house or rehearsal room.

Turns out that being able to clean those instruments may have been a public service.

Recent studies have determined that it’s possible to develop an allergic pulmonary disease, an inflammation of the lung tissue, known as “Saxophone Lung” in response to the bacteria, yeast and mold that collects over time in various woodwind instruments such as clarinets and saxophones, particularly in the reeds and mouthpieces.

Case studies include that of a trombone player whose stubborn fifteen-year cough went away when he finally used rubbing alcohol to clean his instrument and a saxophonist whose shortness of breath cleared up after he started cleaning his mouthpiece.

“Many children participate in their school’s band ensemble and often the instruments they play are on loan.  Most of these instruments have been played by other students and without the proper sanitation, bacteria and fungi can thrive for weeks and even months after the last use.” – R. Thomas Glass, DDS, Phd.

Music teachers often find themselves teaching by example.  Obviously, this requires them to play their students’ instruments as they demonstrate various techniques and styles.  Not surprisingly, clean instruments are important to their health as well as the health of their students.

Have you ever heard of “Saxophone Lung”?

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3 Comments
  1. Actually there was a story done on NPR back in 2010 about a Trombone player who had a cough and could never seem to get well. It turns out he had “Trombone Player Lung”– from the mold and fungi from inside his horn.

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  2. Thanks for this info. I had never heard of this before, but it makes sense. I’m surprised more schools don’t have cleaning programs as part of their curriculum where even very young students are taught how to clean their instruments.

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