Sunday, April 3, 2011

“Sharing Musical Instruments Not Always Healthy for Kids” March 16th, 2011 – Andrea Gordon, Toronto Star


Oklahoma State University researchers examined 13 brass and woodwind instruments shared by school students and discovered micro-organisms linked to asthma, skin infections, and other illnesses and allergies. Their results were published in the journal “General Dentistry”.
Researchers took swabs from 117 sites on mouthpieces, internal chambers and cases. They found 442 different bacteria, including species of staphylococcus, 58 types of mould and 19 yeasts, similar to what’s commonly found on dentures, athletic mouthguards and toothbrushes.
According to anecdotal reports from the teacher, half the band students at any given time had experienced respiratory ailments like asthma or bronchitis. The music staff at the Toronto District School Board were not available to comment, but a St. John’s Music retailer emphasized the importance of keeping the mouthpiece clean and disinfecting the instruments in between uses. They also encouraged parents to purchase their own mouthpieces.


I think parents and music educators alike need to look at this article in context and with a little perspective. Firstly, this article is lacking a severe amount of information to make this a credible source. Where is this school? Is it an elementary or secondary school? How often do the students play the instruments? How many students per instrument? Do they already have a method for cleaning the instruments in place? And if so, what is their current practice?
Why is it that music practices are attacked but not other subjects? Why are there no studies comparing the amount of bacteria found on music instrument mouthpieces to other areas in the school, say the student desks where they eat their lunch or the sports equipment used in the gym?
Reading this critically, I find myself questioning the motives of this article. Firstly, why write it at all? Ideally we would think it is to inform the public of possible hazards in the music room, but if this is the real agenda, then why don’t they explain what precautions are being used by music educators to prevent further problems in this field, other than encouraging students to purchase their own mouthpieces?
Also, who benefits from this article? We would like to think the students would, considering the article expresses the need for music education, yet the article does not include the students’ voices. They do not present a view from someone who is experiencing what goes on in the music room but they do include a statement from St. John’s Music retailer encouraging parents to purchase students their own mouthpieces.
So finally we need to ask the most important question, and that is who is the intended audience of this article? It is presented in a public forum and needs to be written in a form that is accessible to most readers. So the article is directed of parents/guardians of students in music classes and ultimately it is encouraging parents to take an active role in supporting music education in their schools by using scare tactics and unsupported statistics.
What does this article mean for music educators? I think the teachers in the Toronto District School Board made the right choice by not commenting for the article. Some may read that as fear or lack of ability to argue against the topic, but I think it demonstrates the lack of validity in this article if they are not even going to bother to respond to the questions. Music educators should be prepared though. This article could prompt more parents/guardians to phone the music teachers with questions about the sterilization practice in the music classroom. Hopefully this will not adversely affect the students’ musical experiences in and out of the classroom and educators will be able to continue teaching without unnecessary interruption.

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