Thursday, December 9, 2010

Condensation versus spit

In grad school, I had several friends who played French horn. As they drained the liquid contents of assorted valves onto the floors of assorted performance venues, they would insist, "it's not spit, it's condensation." As their accompanist, I learned to say it with them: "I know, it's not spit, it's condensation."

I was thus surprised to learn that there's a special valve on a trumpet called a "spit valve." When the instrument starts gurgling, the player presses the valve and blows a good gust of air into the mouthpiece, forcing a dribble of liquid out through the valve.

Now, it turns out you're supposed to give your trumpet a bath once a month or so. We finally learned this four months into E's trumpet education, so last weekend I set up my laptop on the bathroom scale (the horizontal surface farthest from water without also being the cover of a kitty-litter box) and carefully followed the step-by-step instructions offered in a well-reviewed youtube video on trumpet bathing. There's a whole genre of such videos. Some (like the ones that show you how to pry sticking parts apart with pliers, or that insist the idea that trumpets need cleaning is a conspiracy promulgated by trumpet cleaning supply manufacturers and music stores) are worse than others.

I carefully disassembled the instrument, placed the appropriate parts on a towel in the bathtub, soaked them in warm water, inserted the correct pipe cleaners and snakes into the tubes for which they were designed, rinsed and gently patted each piece dry, and finally lubed and oiled and reassembled the parts. Lo, E's trumpet looks and sounds significantly better post-bath.

In the process, I learned that trumpet players are happy to call a spade a spade. Judging by the four months worth of bacterial goo left behind in the water? It's not condensation. It's spit.

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