Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson: ‘I Have Practiced Singing With A Mask’


Ian Anderson
Frank Hoensch/Redferns
– Ian Anderson
The co-founder and front man of Jethro Tull performs at Admiralspalast in Berlin, Germany, Sept. 25, 2017.
Ian Anderson, co-founder and frontman of Jethro Tull, penned a letter to UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden as well as minister for digital and culture Caroline Dinenage, suggesting ways of safely reopening indoor and outdoor venues.
His motivation: getting at least some artists and live professionals back to work. After receiving no response, Anderson published the letter on Jethro Tull’s website.
In it, Anderson establishes that aerosol droplets were a more likely source of infection than surface contamination, seeing that the latter could be more easily mitigated “by venue operator disinfection and appropriate audience hygiene.”
He conducted his own experiments to establish the size of aerosol plumes, noting the amount of droplets produced through talking, singing and playing the flute, as well as the distance they spread – which, of course, differs depending on the intensity with which one speaks or blows the instrument.
According to Anderson’s findings, the aerosol plume vastly increases in size when exposed to tail winds, which could be a factor at outdoor shows. To simulate this, he utilized a fan running 10 km/s. The experiment showed that while the plume reaches out farther (“around 3m talking at normal volume and to around 5m singing or talking/laughing/shouting loudly”) it also disperses, leading to “much less droplet density.”
Combining his own findings with published scientific data, Anderson lists a number of possible solutions for both outdoor and indoor performances, emphasizing that the latter scenario “poses much greater questions, many problems and more difficult solutions.”
About masks at outdoor concerts Anderson writes, “My personal belief is that outdoor concerts are safe right now at the current level of national infections with minimum [one-meter] lateral seat spacing for single seat positioning and everyone wearing a mask – at least a 50p 3-layer surgical mask – not a flimsy single layer home-made cosmetic face covering.” 
By creating seat clusters for groups of two to four people, instead of setting apart all seats individuals by one meter, capacities could be doubled (from 35% to 70%), depending on the venue.
While he personally believes seating would be safer at a distance of 1.25 meters, he’s also aware that it would reduce “safe seating” to 56%.
During summer outdoor concerts, Anderson usually uses “low profile electric fans on stage” to cool him. They would “inhibit all direct exhalation from me as a singing/wind instrument performer reaching the audience,” he writes, adding, “By pointing up and backwards they would loft my exhaled droplets up into the lighting rig not into the faces of the backing musicians or upstage performers! The same thing can apply in most theatrical settings whether outdoors or indoors, in fact.”
The fans would also be a solution for wind and brass players in the band, while everybody else could be wearing masks.
Writes Anderson: “I have practiced singing with a mask recently and, apart from looking a bit nerdy, it offers little obstruction to healthy lungs, let alone my own tired old airbags.” 
For indoor shows, Anderson looked at the seating plans of a couple of UK venues to work out the maximum capacities at which venues could operate. His 52 years of performance experience have taught Anderson that relatively few single tickets are sold for concerts or theatrical shows, they’re mainly purchased in pairs, threes, or fours.