Shofar sounding is akin to Trumpet playing is the sense that the two principal attributes are the embouchure (musculature of the lips and facial muscles), the wind generation and the agility of the tongue.
Insofar as wind generation, we come upon the Valsalva maneuver – a physiological response to holding one’s breath and bearing down (as in childbirth).

The trumpeter’s Valsalva is modified because air is released through the resistance of a .144-inch-diameter hole at the mouthpiece throat and through 5 feet of brass tubing. The respiratory tract pressures generated by trumpet players have been measured and are impressive. Mouthpiece pressure on the lip during normal playing has been measured at 5 to 10 pounds. Higher-register playing produces greater pressure.

In the case of a shofar the aperture is materially less than .144 inches but not as many feet does the wind have to travel unless the shofar is Yemenite.

Brass Instrument Pathology

Problems inside them mouth such as canker sores, braces or “bump” can sideline a player for days. Playing with a cold or worse is also not good for the wind generation. And it may lead to dizziness, decreases the velocity of air generation (decreasing the tonality of the instrument)

Mucous is not the only possible pathological hindrance to a trumpeter’s airflow. Asthma decreases the volume and velocity of exhaled air. Smoking-related obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis create similar difficulties.

In 1973, a volley of letters to the New England Journal of Medicine described wind parotitis. The typical story of these patients was inflammation of the parotid gland, similar to that occurring in mumps . . . Although one writer postulated that the pressures generated within the mouth forced bacteria from the mouth through the tube that drains saliva into the mouth from the parotid gland, most writers believed the symptoms were caused by trapped air within the gland.

Transient dizziness, as a result of thoracic cavity pressures decreasing blood flow to the head, can occur. In addition, a peculiar syndrome called facial dystonia is the wind instrumentalist’s version of writers’ cramp. This malady causes lips or cheek muscles to lock or stiffen after a period of playing. The cramp disappears with rest but naggingly returns when playing resumes.

The tongue is the precision part of a brass instrumentalist’s anatomy. The tongue needs agility. Anything that swells, cuts, or slows the tongue, such as canker sores, lacerations, and allergic swelling, blurs the attack and can even trigger an unwanted half-tone.

Accordingly, although there are medical consequences inherent in brass instrument playing, one should take care of their health and be very careful when a cold, sore or cramp develops.

Ideas for this article came from Charles R. Meyer, M.D., “The Perils of Trumpeting,” Minnesota Medicine, Minnesota Medical Association, February 2003/Volume 86 Accessed June 14, 2006
For more information about Shofar and other Holy Temple instruments.

By: Arthur L. Finkle

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