Creepy, Gross, and Macabre Things Lurking in Your Music Classroom
By NAfME member Peter J. Perry, D.M.A.
It is October, and the scariest things in your music room are not the post-summer vacation sounds coming out of your students’ instruments at rehearsals! In the spirit of Halloween, I present some seasonally inspired (creepy, macabre, and even gross) aspects of what we do. These should hopefully be informative, but at the very least, be interesting to read or pass on to students and colleagues.
Invasion of the Evil Skin-Eating Bow Eaters!
For orchestra teachers and string players, there is a silent but destructive predator that preys on your poor unsuspected bows—specifically the bow hair. My first encounter with these musical predators was a couple of years ago with a new bow for my son’s violin. Both my wife and I are music teachers and wanted our son to play violin. He was at the time (and still is) practicing piano, and we did not want to overload the boy. To my horror, when I took the bow out several months later, the hairs were broken in a manner like someone had been vigorously practicing Paganini (I knew my then five-year old was not the culprit).
Taking the damaged bow back to the shop, I was told that the damage was caused by bow bugs (Fig. 1). Bow bugs? These insects, also known as museum beetles, carpet beetles, or bow mites, are beetles that thrive in dark unventilated places (like your instrument case). As adults, they eat shrubs, but as larvae, the prefer to feast on skin, hair, and wool (hence the entomological labeled dermestids, or “skin eaters”). Museums especially hate them since they can cause irreparable damage. Bow bug damage is distinguishable by the straight-lined break in the hairs across the bow. Additionally, wind players also beware: These little monsters will go after woodwind pads too! These pests will even appear even in the cleanest homes.
To prevent the issue entirely, PRACTICE REGULARLY! The regular opening of the case and removal of the instrument and bow is enough to prevent their invasion. If you are plagued by these calcium-eating devils, vacuum the case thoroughly. If the bow needs rehairing, make sure to tell the shop about the bow bugs so they can take precautions to protect the other cases/bows in the shop. To keep them from returning, open the case periodically and leave it in direct sunlight. Like vampires, these creatures hate the sun. Cedar chips in the case also work. Do not, however, use insecticides as it can both damage your instrument and/or bow and pose health issues to you.
It Came from Inside the Trombone!!!
Two stories of such musically horrific significance came to light over the last several years, that they even made the mainstream media. They both involved basically the same issue. In 2010, a professional trombone player was suffering from asthmatic symptoms. Mysteriously, the doctors could not find any trace of the condition. On vacation, the trombonist left his horn at home, and the symptoms disappeared! Upon his return, he had his horn tested and found out he was allergic to the “junk” that grows inside the brass instrument—specifically, bacteria called a Mycobacterium chelonae-abscessus, a cousin of tuberculosis. The condition was named “Trombonist’s lung.” Check out the National Public Radio story here.
In 2016, a more tragic case came out of Liverpool, England where a bagpiper was suffering from chronic respiratory infections. Sadly, the gentleman passed away from the condition. His death was later found to be caused by his bagpipes, and a condition called “Bagpipe Lung.” Inside the bladder of the pipes, medical investigators found a wide array of mold and yeast. In hindsight, the piper’s respiratory ailments and even death could have been prevented with the cleaning or replacing of his pipes. Check out the story from USA Today here.
Both of these incidents provide cautionary tales about the importance of keeping instruments clean and sanitary. I use them with parents and students as shocking reminders of what can happen if instruments are not regularly cleaned. I recommend that students clean/disinfect their mouthpieces weekly and their instruments monthly. As gross as it is to be able to smell a child’s instrument across the room, the possible health effects this nasty instrument poses could be even worse.
There are many colorful stories about the composers of the music we perform. One, however, most definitely embodies Halloween. The Renaissance (1450 – 1613) composer Carlo Gesualdo is known for his sacred music and madrigals (Fig. 2). Check out his music here:
Gesualdo’s father was Prince of Venosa, which provided the musician an unusually high social status. This was especially evident in Gesualdo’s other famous feature: the violent and brutal killing of his first wife and her lover. Gesualdo was suspicious of his wife’s infidelity and set a trap for her and her lover. He burst onto the scene and brutally murdered both people with his dagger, and then dragged the bodies outside to demonstrate the punishment. His noble status prevented official punishment, but not from possible revenge from his victims’ families (also nobility).
This pushed an ever more paranoid Gesualdo to fortify his castle and hire protection. He married his second wife who was from a powerful family from Ferrara, Italy. This marriage was not a happy one either, so much so, his wife petitioned the Pope for a divorce which was refused. Gesualdo purchased a separate estate for his wife, while he remained in his fortified Venosa castle. His cause of death is not known exactly. It, however, was surmised to be of intestinal failure (the source of which was reportedly demonic possession). Another theory was that his wife had poisoned him. Nonetheless, his death also was three weeks after the untimely death of his only son, ending his noble bloodline. (Source: Alisha Nypaver. See the entire article here.)
While many of these details are not suitable for classrooms, the interesting story behind the music, is definitely one for the Halloween season. Happy Halloween!
About the author:
Peter Perry is a lifelong Maryland resident, and has traveled the world teaching and performing music. A NAfME member, he is currently in his twenty-second consecutive year as Instrumental Music Director at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. Here he conducts the: Chamber Orchestra, Concert Orchestra, Pit Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, Concert Band, and Marching Band. These ensembles consistently receive critical acclaim on local, state, and national levels.
Dr. Perry is a strong advocate for music technology usage in the large ensemble. His doctoral dissertation, “The Effect of Flexible-Practice Computer-Assisted Instruction and Cognitive Style on the Development of Music Performance Skills in High School Instrumental Students,” focused on how the practice software, SmartMusic™, and the cognitive styles of field dependence and field independence affect musical performance skill development. He is completing his first book about using Technology in the Large Ensemble, to be published by Oxford University Press as part of their Essential Music Technology: The Prestissimo Series next year.
He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Music Education from Shenandoah Conservatory, as well as a Master’s Degree in Music Education-Instrumental Conducting Concentration, and a Bachelor of Science Degree-Instrumental Music Education, both from the University of Maryland. While at the University of Maryland, Dr. Perry was awarded the prestigious Creative and Performing Arts Scholarship in Music.
In 2006, Dr. Perry received a Japan Fulbright fellowship and participated in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. He is an active guest conductor, clinician, adjudicator, lecturer, author, composer, and performer.
Follow Dr. Perry on Twitter: @peterperry101.
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