15: Music and Science

April, 2015 – Göttingen – Dr Peter Iltis, Dr Jens Frahm

 Click here to watch the whole episode

Who would volunteer to spend two hours in a very confined space on their back wearing a Stormtrooper mask and blowing through a plastic mouthpiece and tube into a copper-based horn which was attached to their feet?? Well, me. The things I do for my art!  Actually, it was totally worth it… 

This episode was both scary and fascinating for me. Fascinating (and also a bit creepy!) to see what was going on in my mouth and chest when I play the horn. Scary being in the tube at the beginning – I got used to it after a while but it isn’t the most pleasant place to be. It’s wonderful to think that these videos might be able to help teachers or people with playing problems such as focal dystonia. It was also great to meet Erwin Schoonderwaldt and see his amazing motion capture research on violinists. 

Thanks so much to the wonderful team at the Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Lab at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen (that really was a mouthful to say on camera…): Dr Peter Iltis (who came all the way over from the USA for these tests) and Dr Jens Frahm and his team. Enjoy the whole interview with Peter here and check out the outtake to see how to get the spit out of the MRI horn!!

I am also especially proud to be able to offer this exclusive video of more of my MRI horn exercises in the hope that they may be useful information for the horn world. This is such a wonderful project!

Making-Of Gallery


  • (MRI) Chamber Music with Sarah Willis
  • Music and Science: Dr. Peter Iltis
  • Star Wars Horn Challenge
  • Bob Ashworth

    Fabulous MRI videos Sarah – fascinating!

  • Alexis Kasperavičius

    This makes me really think about what the tongue is doing during the note. I’m surprised at how far back it goes and how it seems to be used to launch each note. Already making some small changes in technique from seeing this, which are surprisingly effective!

  • Wanda Fooca

    2 hours of that? Wow, now that is a horn challenge, but i must say i may never get those images out of my mind when i see you play with the Phil. Especially the frontal Predator looking image. Kudos for your contribution to science.

  • Sharon Belisle

    Wow, so cool to see what goes on inside the body when playing! I learned some things about tonguing/double tonguing that I’m going to try.

  • http://www.sarah-willis.com/sarahsmusic/ Sarah Willis

    Thanks for your comments, I´m really happy to hear that you guys are finding this helpful. It was a fascinating day…a bit creepy in the tube but worth it for the results! :-)

  • http://www.trumpetexercises.com Antonio Rapacciuolo

    Hello Sarah! This is a very interesting video! You should interview Adam Rapa, tongue level is a major part of his teaching! Take a look at this performance: https://youtu.be/wPV7SwpDNVc

    • Matthew Carstensen

      If she does that she should also look at his work with the theater production BLAST!, very interesting stuff
      (poor quality video but you can still se the contrast stylistically)

  • http://sarah-willis.com/ Sarah Willis

    Dr Peter Iltis will be giving a lecture about his project with the MRI and brass playing at this year´s International Horn Society Meeting in LA, in case any of you will be there…I will! :-)

  • Michael Buckwalter

    Sarah, this is wonderful, on several levels. Obviously, as a teaching tool, both for those of us who teach brass playing, and those of us continually learning. Additionally, it’s just fascinating viewing, and mighty fine playing, considering the circumstances!
    Personally, it’s a gift to see an MRI as something not related to illness. Having gone through something very similar (CT scan) I can easily relate to your trepidation of getting inside that tube. Add to that the worries that come with a cancer diagnosis, and you can imagine how much fun I had! Since my 2nd CT scan gave us the news that I am now cancer free, that tube has a bit more friendly feel to it. Watching your video makes it seem downright helpful!

    • http://sarah-willis.com/ Sarah Willis

      Hi Michael, so glad you enjoyed it and am happy to hear that you are healthy again! Please stay that way! :-)

  • Jena Gardner

    Sarah, I would love to hear your thoughts on viewing this MRI of yourself. Anything that surprised you or perhaps confirmed your suspicions?

  • John Froelich

    Wow Sarah. There were a few studies done in the late 60s and early 70s using a video fluoroscope–I was a subject in Kent Frohrip’s early 70s study. I thought that these kinds of studies would never be replicated because of the dangers associated with radiation exposure. Congratulations on finding ways to overcome the tight space and magnetic field in the MRI. The computing power required to capture these images in real time is really impressive.
    You will find the pedogogical literature filled with many things that just are not correct. The images of the breathing show what actually happens to the rib cage and the diaphragm rather than what some teachers tell students to do…Thank you for providing these images.
    I just sent Kent a link to this page.

    • http://sarah-willis.com/ Sarah Willis

      Thanks so much, John! Really appreciate your comments and happy you enjoyed the programme. All the best from Berlin!

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