Many musicians read with horror the NPR article about "trombone players' lung" which circulated a few days ago. A mold called fusarium was detected inside the trombone of a musician suffering from chronic coughing and according to the article, "mold and bacteria could grow in any brass instrument." It's not much of a stretch to imagine mold and bacteria growing in bassoon bocals (and reeds) as well! To compound the problem, bassoonists are known to regularly "suck in" and then, in the attempt to avoid gurgling sounds and fuzzy attacks, we actually swallow the contents of the bocal. Ewww.......
Come to think of it, this could be the main reason why I always prefer to play on new reeds. Long before scientists ever examined the interior of the trombone, I was leery of the dark interiors of reeds and bocals. Wood, due to its porous nature, is even more likely than brass or other metals to trap and grow bacteria and mold! The older the reed, the more time it's had to attract and harbor such toxins. And since the reed is in direct contact with the player's mouth, I think it makes sense to be very afraid of what's inside of them. Mold and bacteria thrive on darkness and moisture, so after playing, I rinse my reeds with water and then leave them out to dry off. (I have paid dearly for that habit, though. Since I don't keep my reeds in the bassoon case, it's not unusual for me to show up at work without my reeds!)
To further promote bacteria-free reeds, I always brush and floss my teeth before playing, every time. Most bassoonists carry toothbrushes in their cases for this purpose. Sometimes we are offered snacks during rehearsal breaks. I do not indulge unless there's plenty of time to brush and floss before playing again.
As a more indirect precaution, I always wash my hands thoroughly before playing the bassoon. If there is any bacteria on your hands, there's a great likelihood of introducing that bacteria into the reed.
If I find it necessary to clean a reed more thoroughly, I wash it carefully with hot water and soap and then soak it in hydrogen peroxide. This is the procedure recommended by a biologist whom I questioned once about the most effective way to clean a reed.
Keeping bocals sanitary is easy as long as cleaning is frequent. The bocal I'm using now is only a year old, and I have swabbed it every 2 weeks with a silk pull-through bocal swab. The bocal looks quite clean and nothing comes out on the swab (although bacteria is invisible). I wash the swab after each run-through and then hang it outside in the sun to dry. The sunlight has a bleaching effect. For the wing and boot joints I also use silk pull-through swabs, and every few days I wash them and hang them out in the sun to dry.
After reading about the toxic trombone, I considered pouring rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide through the bocal for extra sanitizing but decided against it due to the drying effects of alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. I don't want to dry out the cork on the bocal!
Do you have any other ideas to add which might enhance the safety level of the bassoon playing experience?
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