A Study of the Involuntary Activation of the Valsalva Maneuver In Brass Players

Photo provided by the Drinko Center for Undergraduate Research at Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA.

I have been awarded a fellowship through the Drinko Center at Westminster College for undergraduate research and am studying The Causes and Effects of the Involuntary Activation of the Valsalva Maneuver in Brass Instrumentalists. In layman’s terms, the Valsalva maneuver is when the glottis closes to block the airway, which is a normal function of the glottis, but it can cause problems in brass players if it happens at the wrong time.

Symptoms vary from person to person but can include lightheadedness, clicking or a guttural sound in the throat, pressure buildup in the chest and/or esophagus, inability to play a note, and/or “musical stuttering” or a sudden burst of a repeated note. For some players, these issues can be cleared up with regular practice, but for some, the remedy is not very clear.

My ultimate goal is to find out what is happening in the vocal tract at the time these issues occur and to develop a pedagogical approach to helping the player overcome these issues.  The goal of this initial 6-week fellowship is to collect data from as many brass instrumentalists as I can about issues they and/or their students experience related to the involuntary activation of the Valsalva maneuver and to gather data during the playing of the instrument as to what actions trigger the issues.

The current research is focusing on two main areas to collect data. The first is an online survey and the second is a playing study which involves playing a series of exercises on their main brass instrument and answering questions about what they feel and experience during those exercises. They can participate in both (if they play a brass instrument) or just the survey (as a player and/or teacher) or just the playing study (again if they play a brass instrument.)

For the online survey, I’m in need of brass players and people who teach brass players (which can include non-brass instrumentalists, such as someone who is a band director) to take a survey about their experiences playing their brass instrument and/or their experiences teaching someone to play a brass instrument. The survey can take up to 30 minutes, depending on if they play and teach or if they just play or teach. For those who just play or teach, the time to take the survey will be shorter. Click here for the link to the survey.  It can be taken any time up to at least August 9. It may run later but I ask people to take it sooner rather than later so I can begin analyzing the data. If the link doesn’t open, please copy and paste the following into the browser:


For the playing study, I have a series of exercises that include long tones, single and multiple tonguing, chromatics, range, lip flexibilities and an etude. The exercises are not meant to be difficult. The point is not to test skill but to try to see what is happening in the vocal tract while the exercises are being played. If the instrumentalist is unable to play any of the exercises, we just move on to the next.

These playing tests would ideally be done in the Westminster College School of Music in New Wilmington since I have arrangements to do my research there, but arrangements can also be made to do it via SKYPE or other video conferencing software if travel to the college is not possible. I will be taking video during the playing test, but only so I can review them later and will not be used in any presentations of the data.

The playing study will take about an hour to an hour and a half but realize that much of the time is not actually playing but talking about what was played so it is not a solid hour or so of playing. Anyone wishing to participate can contact me at heritb22@wclive.westminster.edu and/or if they are taking the online survey, can provide contact information at the end of the survey. I am currently scheduling these between now and August 9, 2019.

Thank you,

Tim Hering

Research Invitation

Year One College Reboot – Part 1

Year one of my college reboot is over. While I don’t exactly regret not transferring the music credits I had from my first go round, I have found myself calculating how many more of them I need to fulfill that portion of my now double major. I’ve entered the honors program, which will in some ways fulfill most of the liberal arts requirements needed to graduate, but in other ways add a few more classes that I wouldn’t otherwise need.

I’ve also added an English major and writing minor which partially was already started with the credits I did transfer so I believe everything will be done on time. I did modify the music major to go from music education to just music since there were a number of required courses and observations and whatnot for teaching K-12 that I am not really interested in doing. I do want to teach, but my goal is to teach older adults and I felt that if I found myself teaching K-12 that I may never get out.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy teaching kids, but at this point in my life, I would rather not be starting at the bottom in music ed when so many programs are being cut. I am still going to take the various pedagogy classes to learn the various band instruments as well as the conducting classes since those will all come in handy teaching adults.

As much as I believe that everything happens for a reason, I have found myself wondering if I picked the right school for this adventure. My primary goal was to play my trumpet and finish my music degree so I could teach older adults and also to play a variety of styles on my trumpet. On the way, I found that I do enjoy writing and following the same pattern from 30 years ago, I found myself drawn to the English department. It also helped that I did transfer English credits.

However, as much as I’ve tried to keep an open mind about the inner workings of the music department, I have felt less than welcome by more than a few instructors in the department. There is one in particular that I feel should have been fired before he finished his first semester teaching there (which was my first semester there) and I refuse to participate in anything he teaches if I can get around it, but other than that I feel like I have to jump over or go around barriers that are only in place for certain students.

I concede that I am not the trumpet player I once was. 27 years off and a brand new configuration of teeth will tend to change the way anyone plays, but as far as I can see, each student pays in one way or another the same amount to get the same opportunities and the same education yet there are those within the department who believe otherwise.

For some of them, I believe my age is a factor, but for others, it seems they have their own ideas on which students are worthy of their attention. This has led me to seek other avenues, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when I start counting credits to see when I can spend more time in another department, then I have to ask if this was the best place for me to go to get a music degree.

I have had a number of positive experiences at this school and I wouldn’t have had them met the people I have met had I gone elsewhere and there are some of the faculty that have been very helpful for me in the music department, but it is those who have not been that have been cause for concern for me.

I had a great time at the ITG conference which I recently attended, though I found myself exhausted by the 18-22 year olds I traveled with. They are great kids, but I’m sure traveling with a 50 year old man wasn’t always fun for them either. I will say they went over and above to make me feel comfortable, though and I am more often than not happy to see their enthusiasm for things and I do try to feed off that energy.

I also enjoyed the many performances at the conference but had to keep myself from wondering what if? … My favorite performances came from those who are in my own age group. Would I have been at that level now had things been different back then? There is no use speculating, but given my experience in the music department now, I wonder if I’ll even get close to that level at all…

There is one more change that I am likely to make this fall when the English department’s new curriculum kicks in and that will be to modify the current English major/ writing minor to a Major in English with a concentration in Writing and have Music as a 2nd Major. This will trim 8 of the required credits off the music major while adding 4 to the English major.  A net savings of 4 and allow me to finish all of the music requirements but two 4 credit classes and my lessons by the end of year two.

College Reboot year two is two months away. That’s when band camp starts, if I choose to do marching band, which I am still on the fence about.  I feel if I want to have more opportunities at this school to play, I have a better chance if I am in the marching band. I don’t believe it should be that way, unfortunately, I believe it is the case.

I have a lot of positive experiences to write about from year one, so stay tuned….



Getting Ready to Roll

Time to roll up my sleeves and get to work!

And just like that, there are 3 weeks left until classes begin. My email has been buzzing the past few days. Reminders about parking passes… Informational emails about auditions for various musical groups… Don’t forget to purchase a meal plan… Check to see what textbooks you will need… Rehearsal time for trumpet ensemble… Trumpet lesson day and time… Group trumpet warmup times… The list goes on a bit…

Then, yesterday, a total of 23 emails and text messages telling me that items have been uploaded for my Religion in China class.


I’ve had more than a few of those moments over the summer. I feel behind before I’ve begun. For all intents and purposes, I am starting over, even though I do have enough transfer credits to be considered a sophomore it is unlikely that I will graduate any sooner than if I were to start completely from scratch. Many of those transfer credits are just there unless I find a way to fit them into a minor of some sort…

A Music Ed major is rather involved and after discussion with the head of the music department and the trumpet professor, I declined to take any transfer credits for music courses even if eligible. In part, so I can get the most current information and not have to try to piece together information I received 30 years ago with something new. I also want to give myself time to catch up on my playing.

It has been only about 2 years now since I picked up my trumpet and began playing it on a fairly regular basis. Other than a few false starts a few years prior to that, it had been about 30 years since I had played it so being in a position to go back to school for music still seems to be rather far fetched to me. And yet, in 3 weeks, that is exactly what will be happening.

I’m not downplaying how far my playing has actually come in a short period of time. After all, I only played in a group for the first time in about 30 years in June of last year at the International Trumpet Guild conference. I joined a community band the following September, which led to joining two others, and only became aware of Westminster College in November at which point I started taking lessons from the trumpet professor, sitting in with the trumpet ensemble and by the end of April was auditioning for the school of music. All of this with an embouchure that is completely different than it was 30 years ago. Not just changes from getting older, but completely rebuilt on the inside.

Forget “What have I done,” it’s more like “How is this even happening?”

The first time around, I was more confident in my playing abilities and less interested in actual classwork. I’ve learned a lot over the years and forgotten more than that. I am approaching this chapter from a much different angle than I was back then so I am looking forward to seeing what happens from here. I’m a bit disappointed in not being in the marching band this year, but given the short period of time I’ve been playing, it is probably best to wait on that.

Regardless, it is almost time to roll up my sleeves and get to it. I’ve spent the summer practicing technique and while I’m not at the level I want to be, I am where I should be.

Feeling Nostalgic

Tim in the OC Jazz Band
Playing in the OC Jazz Band circa 1986/87

Summer is beginning to wind down, though it really seems to have just begun, and as the first day of classes approaches, I have what is understandably a mix of feelings. I am, of course, a little excited but with a bit of apprehension mixed in. I have been at this place before. 31 years ago. Things have, for the most part, been going smoothly. I’ve been practicing several times a day on most days. Less on community band rehearsal/concert days. Trying to brush up on my piano skills, etc. I have hit some bumps in the road, but that is to be expected and I’ll save all that for another post…

A few days ago, the folks at Westminster sent a link to an online course that all incoming first year students need to take. I don’t believe that they thought some middle aged man was going to be taking it, but none the less… It was a course about the perils of drugs, drinking and hooking up as well as a refresher on what does and does not constitute consent. Most of these things I learned in high school but important information for the vast majority of young adults who will be going from the safe confines of a high school to the exciting world of being more independent than they ever have before.

This course got me thinking about what it was like when I was 18 and entering college for what would be my first time. This led to me looking for old yearbooks online and seeing if I could find some pictures of me at that age. This led to band pictures which don’t really have anything to do with the body of this post other than being nostalgic but they are enjoyable, if only for the fashions and hair styles. While I’m on the topic, the images were taken from the Otterbein College yearbooks Sibyl 1987 and 1988.

OC Pep Band 1987/88
OC Pep Band 1987/88

Back to the course… There were many things that struck me as odd during this course. Not the subject matter itself, but the manner in which it was presented. Back in my day (as all the youngins gather round and I climb into my rocking chair) we would be told in no uncertain terms that you are NOT to drink, do drugs or have sex until you are old enough (in the case of the drinking), never (in the case of the drugs) and until you are married (for the sex…).

This course, on the other hand, seemed to try to frame the topics so as to be as upbeat as possible and always leaving it to the student to decide what is and is not acceptable to them rather than saying that one action or another is wrong. The first section took place at a party where there was drinking. The subjects of the little play were first year students. My first thought was that they were drinking and are underage. The topic was not about that. Or, rather, it involved that but not as being something a first year, underage student should refrain from doing. Instead, it was about hooking up. The alcohol was just a part of what may lead to that action.

Later on in the course, it would be stated clearly that the policy of the college was there should be no drinking. But then another part where the difference in alcohol content between types and sizes of drinks was discussed. Educating while still giving a choice. Realizing that this rule may very likely be broken and giving the tools to deal with it in a positive and proactive manner. What we could do if more topics were treated as such…

OC Jazz Band 1987/88
OC Jazz Band 1987/88

Without going into more detail about the course, I’ll just say that this got me to thinking back to a time when I was that age and how much things have changed even while much of it stays the same. If you are going to do it, do it safely and be responsible. It is pretty much the same now as it was back then. No one was naive enough to think that some of us were not going to do one, two or more of these things and if there was going to be sex, then everyone must agree to it. I developed a taste for vodka and tequila long before I could legally purchase it. I decided rather quickly that pot was not my cup of tea and I was (at least in my head) firmly in the closet during the first go ’round at college. These days, I may partake but it has been a long time since I have had more than one or two and there are many days in between with none and I am perfectly ok with that.

I was somewhat of a light weight so it didn’t take much to get me drunk, but the point of it all was that we were responsible enough to be safe about it even if we were not supposed to be doing it. I do know that for me, it wasn’t because I took a class. Though I’m sure we did discuss much of that in high school. It was because someone, somewhere put the fear of some higher being in my head that these things were bad. And, also because as the aforementioned light weight, I didn’t like how I felt the next day…

I don’t recall many of my friends back in the 80’s as being much into one night stands or hooking up. I’m sure it happened, but that is something that seems to be more talked about now than then. Maybe I just erased that bit from my mind. I know people now in various age groups where this is commonplace now, but to each his/own. Just be safe. It should go without saying that sex is never ok without consent.

Many, if not all, of the current undergraduate students were not even born yet when the images in this post were taken. That is probably true of some of the faculty, though many of them were probably toddlers by then and some a little older. I’m sure I will have more “been there, done that” moments over the next few years, and maybe I’ll find a picture or two to share. I will say that while I do have fond memories of some things back then, I have probably pushed much of it to the back of my mind. I have retained some friendships and reconnected with others over the years. But, I’m not looking back trying to recapture something that is gone. Those groups were fun to play in and it has been fun just looking back and seeing it as something that was, (with glasses that took up half my face and a full head of thick, brown hair) and looking forward to seeing how this new path unfolds…


Some notes to start

Tim playing TrumpetMy name is Timothy Hering. Most people call me Tim. Family still calls me Timmy, though I wouldn’t suggest that if you aren’t. I’ve also been referred to as a variety of other things as well, but you probably haven’t been doing it right if you haven’t been from time to time. I turn 49 years old in May of 2017. That’s not that important, or so I’ve been told, but it is part of the story.

Music and creativity have always been a staple in my life. As a young boy, I would listen to my parents collection of records (yes, the vinyl ones before they were retro.) Among these recordings were the Canadian Brass, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and The Philadelphia Brass. I somehow always imagined myself up there playing Amazing Grace ala Ronn Romm or A Taste of Honey with the Tijuana Brass. My favorites were the timeless classic sound of the Philadelphia Brass playing Christmas Carols. A recording that can still be heard every holiday season in shopping centers around the country. When the time came, it was only natural for me to choose the trumpet as my instrument in the school band.

Throughout the course of the rest of my middle and high school years, I played in everything I could and played for as many people as I could. I also sang in the various school choirs and acted in the drama club so when it was time to graduate and go off to college. the road was all mapped out. But, and you knew it was coming, when you are eighteen preparing to graduate high school and begin college you seem to have everything planned out. You know exactly where you are, where you want to be and how you are going to get there. You passed all of your entrance exams, you know where you will be next year, in three, five and even ten years from now. But, sometimes, what you believe is the path you must take isn’t the one you were really meant to be on. At least, not yet. At first it may seem like there’s just a few bumps in the road. Nothing you can’t handle, until suddenly you swerve to avoid one of those bumps. Your car slides off the road and you careen completely off course. “Recalculating,” the voice says repeatedly from your once trustworthy GPS.

It’s now about three decades since the first of many of those scenarios in my life. A scholarship each for trumpet and theater at a good school and the perfect route plotted out. Turns out there were more than a few bumps and quite a bit of construction on that route. “You end up exactly where you are meant to be.” Life is a seemingly endless string of cliches but I do firmly believe that one. While I cannot say I enjoyed every minute of the scenery of the multiple detours, I would not be the person I am today without them. The people I have met, the relationships I have made and the experiences I have had would likely never have happened. I thought at that time that being unable to play my trumpet due to dental issues was the end of everything. Financial and family issues also seemed to redirect me. I pushed music out of my life for quite some time while I learned to deal with that. Over time, even as the scenery changed and I adapted to it, I learned that music had never really left. It just took different forms. My creativity still drives me forward as I take on new challenges. From restaurant management to becoming a personal chef to designing the branding on a line of body care products, my road is nothing like it had been planned.

It has been quite an adventure, however, and I have learned to simply add new destinations to the existing route. What I had thought was a direct route many years ago is no longer in the rear view mirror but is the new destination as I have reconnected to that road from long ago.  The voice saying “Recalculating,” no longer speaks over top of everything else.  What I believed had been insurmountable dental issues have been resolved and while there may be a few more gray hairs on my head,  I am grateful for the experiences I have had and as hopeful and excited as one just out of high school looking forward to new experiences and chances to learn and share on this new road forward.

This blog is my attempt to document my road in finding music and the trumpet again. There are and will always be trumpeters better than me and that is great since it gives me something to shoot for. I’m not here to wallow in self pity or lament what may have been. I just want to keep a record of my own little journey. No judgements, no ego. I just want to create a safe space to grow and maybe it will inspire someone else to reconnect with a road they thought was no longer on their map of life. Over the years I have picked up other instruments so while the intent of this blog centers around my journey with my trumpet, there are guitars, keyboards and a variety of small percussion instruments in my life as well.

My intent is to write about things as they happen, or shortly there after, but I do have a bit of catching up to do so from time to time, there will be posts about something that has passed but is still a part of this little journey.

Constructive comments are encouraged. Mean spirited comments are not.