If you’ve ever been to a band or orchestra concert, or attended a brass instrument recital, you will have seen brass players draining water out of their instruments. 

The instruments are fitted with little valves at the curves in the tubing where the water collects. Players can discreetly open the valve and release the water.

My own instrument, the French horn, is not so well-known for discreet water-letting. The tubing curls every which way and the water collects in all kinds of hiding places. You will often see horn players spinning and twirling their instruments and disassembling the tubing to find the water and get it out.

For all that, many a beautiful musical moment is still spoiled by water gurgling in the horn. 

Players disagree on what, exactly, this “water” is. Some say it’s accumulated saliva – the release key is known as a “spit-valve.” Others insist that we don’t spit into the instruments at all—the liquid is the water vapour from our breath, which has condensed upon contact with the metal inside the horn.

It’s probably both—distilled breath-water with a bit of spit. 

If that sounds unappealing, it might be better to think of it as “liquid music.”

I’ve been pondering this concept of liquid music since band and choir activities were suspended in the spring. I had been preparing a short program of horn music back then, and was ready to begin rehearsals. I had also been playing in the 4 Wing Band and a horn quartet. All that came to a stop.

I tried to keep practicing in the meantime, but eventually let it go.

It’s a long and difficult process for a brass player to get back into playing shape. It can take weeks of daily practice
to get enough strength and endurance to be nearly adequately mediocre.

So it was with mixed feelings that I heard the news from Dr Deena Hinshaw that band and choir activities could resume under strict conditions. I know a lot of my musician friends have been hurting, and to sing or play again will do wonders for our collective morale.

But I have a high mountain to climb if I want to play decently again.

As I understand it, “liquid music” is not the greatest danger for spreading viruses. It’s the tiny droplets in our exhaled breath, and the even-tinier aerosol droplets that can linger in the air around us. Woodwind instruments like clarinets and (especially) flutes are far less contained than brass instruments, and require greater caution.

For once, it’s not the slobbery dogs of the brass section that people want to keep their distance from; it’s those tidy meticulous woodwind players.

And what an awful year this has been for people who love to sing! There are few things that express our soul, whether individually or collectively, quite like raising our voices to make music. The announcement that choirs can gather, under very careful protocols, must be at least a glimpse of sunshine for members of the Lakeland’s fine choirs.

I’m sure band and choir directors are taking a close look at the protocols to determine if they can safely resume. I know that for hundreds of local musicians, there would be nothing better for their mental and spiritual well-being.

But everyone, please be careful! If we do this right, we will be one step closer to our normal lives. Keep your distance in rehearsal, and even wear a mask when singing if that’s what the guidelines direct. 

And if you’re walking through the brass section—watch your step!