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Breathing Gym: A morning routine

February 11, 2009

If you stumbled into room W-114 in the School of Music Building Monday through Friday mornings, you might have a hard time figuring out just what was going on.

Is it a yoga class? A martial arts session? A surreal music practice?

Actually, it’s sort of all three combined – it’s a session of The Breathing Gym for music students, led by tuba professor Sam Pilafian and visiting assistant professor of tuba Patrick Sheridan, who together developed the techniques.

A dozen or so tuba, euphonium, French horn and trombone players – and an occasional trumpet player – gather every morning at 7:15 a.m. to learn how to breathe more effectively – and better play their instruments.

The voluntary sessions include exercises to release tension, stretch, breathe quickly and use power breaths, all of which, obviously, benefit players of wind instruments.

The brass players sit in a large circle facing each other. Pilafian and Sheridan, both playing their tubas, give the instructions.

Exercises are done with and without instruments. The players practice breathing as they play scales, or “play” music with their breath.

During one recent class, for example, Pilafian asked the students to do a “wind-pattern” version of the “Star-spangled Banner.”

In some exercises, the students send breath through their horns without actually producing musical sounds.

“Hear the groove in your head?” asks Sheridan. “Relax. Sit balanced over your rocker bones.”

After nearly an hour and a half of exercising their lungs – and fingers – the musicians pack up their instruments and slip away, no doubt breathing a little easier than when they arrived.