GET BREAKING NEWS IN YOUR BROWSER. CLICK HERE TO TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

X

Maddie Levinson, Longmont Symphony horn player and owner of Mad Mountain Stitchery, started sewing fabric instrument covers for students and musicians after hearing about a CU Boulder aerosol study. She has made covers for musicians at 10 school districts and three colleges in Colorado. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

When coronavirus brought life to a standstill in March, musician Maddie Levinson was left with a startlingly blank schedule. As principal horn for the Longmont Symphony, she watched performances get canceled, one after another, as the realities of the pandemic set in.

Levinson turned to her other passion, sewing, and began making and donating more than 1,500 fabric masks.

Now, inspired by research about aerosols, coronavirus and wind instruments at her alma mater, the University of Colorado Boulder, Levinson is sewing masks for instruments — fabric covers that can prevent the spread of coronavirus and allow music students and musicians to perform again.

Levinson heard about the aerosol research being conducted by CU Boulder Professor Shelly Miller, who was studying how playing different wind instruments influenced the level of aerosols, which can transmit coronavirus.

Miller’s interest in aerosols was first piqued by the outbreak at the Skagit Valley Chorale in Washington State, when a practice turned into a super-spreader event that infected 53 of the 61 people who attended. Miller was among the scientists sounding the alarm that coronavirus can be transmitted through the air, not just through droplets, long before national and global health authorities acknowledged aerosol spread.

Miller was contacted by educators who wanted to fund research into the risk of playing wind instruments in schools.

“Our main result was that a significant amount of airflow was traveling through the instrument and out of the bell of the instrument, and when we probed that air flow we found a high amount of particles,” Miller said. “We found a significant reduction in aerosol emissions using a bell cover.”

The study also found that the aerosols released by playing some wind instruments were comparable to singing, and that certain instruments that require more air pressure to perform release more particles. For example, an oboe releases far more particles than a flute.

Instrument covers in various states of construction lay on a table at Maddie Levinson’s home in Northglenn. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Miller and her colleagues released early results of the study this summer to give educators access to as much information as possible. Combining instrument covers with ventilation, limiting performance times and wearing masks is key to preventing viral spread, Miller said. Even when performers have small holes cut in their masks to allow them to play, keeping the nose covered prevents the spread of aerosols.

Levinson experimented with the design and fabric of instrument covers, wanting to balance effectiveness with still allowing for a good, clear sound. She settled on a blend of nylon and spandex — like a thick bathing suit material — that stretches over the bells of instruments. She is charging enough to cover the cost of materials while giving away roughly every third order for free to students and musicians in need.

“I’m kind of desperate for music to come back, so if I have this archaic skill and I’m trying to be part of the solution of COVID, why can’t I make (personal protective equipment) for musicians and help them make music again?” she said. “All these kids have taken such a hit, artistically, in schools and I’m just heartbroken for them. That’s what’s motivating me to create this product.”

Levinson has worked with 10 schools and universities so far to provide instrument covers for students, including CU Boulder.

“I’ve always felt like I had this skill and I didn’t really know how to help, but now I feel like Rosie the Riveter,” she said, laughing. “I have a purpose and I can help kids play music again.”

blog comments powered by Disqus