Instrument Masks for Winds & Brass: School of Music Partners with Local Business Torpedo Bags

Music students in rehearsal, woodwind instruments using Torpedo bag coverings

The unprecedented Fall 2020 term leaves many music ensembles across the country figuring out creative ways to continue instruction in-person. Instrument ensembles have a unique challenge: the aerosols in woodwind and brass instruments make it difficult to meet in person without proper protections. 

Student playing instrument with bag and mask outdoors.

Betsy McCann, director of athletic bands, explains that “studies show that aerosols are released from many places when we play woodwind and brass instruments: out of the end of the instrument, out of the keyholes, and out of the mouth and nose when we breathe. Some instruments release spit out of spit valves; others leak spit out of keyholes. All of this aerosol and droplet release coming from so many places creates a large potential for the spread of COVID-19.” 

One challenge McCann sees for the Marching Band is that there are 320 students, mostly playing woodwind or brass instruments. They are physically working hard when playing, adding to aerosol production. However, the Marching Band usually plays outside and is able to write drill charts to properly social distance their shows. 

University ensemble faculty and staff members brainstormed ways in which they could hold some in-person ensembles safely. They came up with a special solution from a local business, instrument masks for brass and woodwind instruments through Facilities and Operations Manager Peter Remiger. Remiger found Torpedo Bags in a news article about a local instrument bag maker that had transitioned to creating COVID-19 masks. He found that Torpedo Bags is located less than 2 miles from the University of Minnesota and has many ties to the local music community. Torpedo Bags shifted its focus from instrument case making to mask making during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remiger decided to contact Torpedo Bags and see if they could make instrument bags for the School of Music. 

"I cold-called [Torpedo Bags] to suggest we work together to develop the Instrument PPE after I read an article about how they’d been making masks. The prototypes were made using our instrument inventory for models," Remiger stated.

Steve Kriesel, President of Torpedo Bags, explained more about the business’ shift to instrument masks. “We have made gig bags and cases for 20 years, and have over 450 designs in our catalog. Much of what we make are leather bags, which are very difficult. The bell covers and instrument covers are quite simple in comparison, although I did have to buy a third serger machine to crank these out.” They have also supplied regular masks for Metro Transit, the Met Council, and Boston Scientific. 

Kriesel hopes that their bags and masks will allow for somewhat normal rehearsal sessions. He noted that he is a musician and educator himself, and recognizes the importance of music for childhood brain development, even well into young adulthood.  

Group of students playing instruments with bags and mask out on the football field.

McCann loves that “they are a local company that can quickly design and put [instrument bags] out for us.” She spoke to us about how the instrument masks supplement the safety of the band. “These products, in addition to the other health and safety measures we are employing, make me confident that we are doing everything we can to keep our students safe in bands," she says.

Torpedo Bags’ innovative product is one of many solutions the School of Music is employing to help music ensembles continue to perform in a safe manner. The School of Music maintains extensive precautionary measures in consultation with health experts and the latest aerosols research, including closed concert recording sessions from Ted Mann Concert Hall which allow for staggered attendance and air exchange between musician rotations, repertoire selection, personal PPE, instrument PPE, shortened and socially distanced rehearsal and recording times, and creating rehearsal and practice spaces that support recommended physical distancing between musicians. 

Tutti. (Italian) all. every musician to take part.
Tutti is the annual publication of the University of Minnesota School of Music.

Read the Fall 2020 | Volume 21 of Tutti.

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