Jacobs on Breathing

After Mr. Jacobs joined the Chicago Symphony in 1944 a doctor suggested that that Mr. Jacobs take up a hobby, maybe something physical like golf. Instead he took up the study of physiology of the human body. At first he asked his wife, Gizella about the diaphragm. At that time the school of thought was to “play from the diaphragm” and he pointed to where he believed the diaphragm was located, near his the naval. Gizella had taken a biology class during high school and said “No, the diaphragm is not there” and pointed higher towards the base of the sternum. He was fascinated and this became Mr. Jacobs’ lifelong hobby starting in the 1940s.

He read medical books on numerous subjects, audited classes and at one time even considered leaving the Chicago Symphony to go to medical school. This was intended this only to be a hobby but he started to incorporate it in his teaching. At first there were many who questioned why he was applying the study of the physiology but his students were showing success. Through his research he had the scientific background that many said he knew more about physiology than many doctors. What is not in debate is that he changed the school of thought of playing a wind instrument. His research continued and at one point he brought colleagues from the Chicago Symphony to Billings Hospital to discover the relationship between air flow and air pressure between brass instruments. Eventually he began to obtain devices to assemble his own studio.

In his studio students would comment about it being something from Dr. Frankenstein. It was common for a student to first have their vital capacity measured on his spirometer. He had gauges to measure various functions of respiration and used them to teach respiration away from the instrument gradually applying it back to the instrument. What took others months to teach, he did in weeks. There was some serious work going on here!

He never had a large vital capacity throughout is career and used what he had with the greatest efficiency.

Video – Arnold Jacobs’ Vital Capacity (1984)