This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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The Nobel Horn

13 December 2012

This week the 2012 Nobel Prizes were awarded at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden. So  it seemed fitting to feature a photograph of the only horn player to receive such an honor. It's also his birthday. His name was Dr. Edward Lawrie Tatum and in 1958 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine  with George Beadle, and Joshua Lederberg. The Associated Press ran a photo of Dr. Tatum and this 8"x10" print was released to newspapers around the country with this caption:

Dr. Edward Lawrie Tatum, 1958 Nobel prize winner
in medicine and physiology,
engages in one of his favorite pastimes,  playing the French horn, tonight at his
Manhattan apartment. His wife, Viola, registers approval.

Edward Tatum (14 December 1909 - 1975) shared the award for medicine with his colleague George Beadle (1903-1989)  "for their discovery that genes act by regulating definite chemical events". The two men worked together at Stanford University developing experiments with the bread mold Neurospora crassa. Their research proposed links between the bread mold's genes and enzymatic reactions and led to an understanding about how specific enzymes were involved in making metabolic pathways.  In other words they made a great contribution to science.

Actually Tatum and Beadle only received 1/4 of the prize, as the other half went to Joshua Lederberg (1925-2008) "for his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria". In 1946 Lederberg's specialty took him to Yale where he studied under Edward Tatum while Tatum was a professor there. In 1957 with the launch of Sputnik and the first spaceflights, Lederberg become concerned about the possible contamination of the Earth by extraterrestrial microbes. He was an important advocate for having NASA sterilize all equipment prior to launch and put the returning astronauts into quarantine.  So we have him to thank that little green space bugs have not taken over the world — yet.

But all that science can make for a dull life sometimes, so who wouldn't want to relax with a musical instrument. Tatum's horn is a single horn in F, which was then more common with students and amateurs. Today most horn players would have a double horn in F/B-flat. So I'd be willing to bet that this was the instrument he had in high school. Perhaps with his prize money he bought a new one.

Just for fun I tried to find orchestras in which Tatum might have performed. In California, he could have played in the Stanford Symphony Orchestra which was established in 1891 and is open to all members of the Stanford University community. In New York City, Tatum could have joined other physicians interested in performing symphonic music in the Doctors Orchestral Society of New York which is celebrating its 75th season next year. At a concert this past January their program included the very beautiful Horn Concerto of Reinhold Glière.

I'm not sure I would know a microbe from a virus unless it bit me. But I do know that the inside of a brass instrument is a veritable Petri dish for germs. Periodically I wash my horn's plumbing with soap and warm water using a long flexible brush called a snake. If proper hygiene is neglected, the molds and mystery substances can become quite colorful. I wonder if Dr. Tatum once had an Ahaa! moment whilst cleaning his horn.

The Nobel Prize is probably Stockholm's biggest world event. They put on grand concerts, They bring out their King. And they serve really good food. I'm sure Viola Tatum registered her approval. Here are two short videos of the Nobel Prize banquets of 2011 and 2012.

Skoal  Dr. Tatum!


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you will find other photos of relaxing couples. 


Wendy said...

I thought for sure you would tell us that Dr. Tatum kissed his French horn, or that the lip position was like a kiss. Instead I'm contemplating the gross stuff that can grow in a horn. Eew. Still, an interesting post with fun videos. I would like to register my approval.

Peter said...

The way you connected the horn to Dr. Tatum's core business requires practical knowledge and a well developed sense of humor! Thanks.

Bob Scotney said...

I can visualise that Petri dish inside his horn. A lot of the best ideas have been discovered by accident,

Meri said...

I was thinking along the same lines as Wendy. And hoping not to think along the same lines as Bob.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

Who knew a French horn could harbor such gunk. I guess I better pay closer attention to cleaning my digeridoo.

Kristin said...

That is an impressive setting of the tables. I could use some worker bees like that around here sometime. What was the large cloth they kept raising over the center table?

Alan Burnett said...

Another of your fascinating posts that gives rise to a handful of memories and a orchestra pit-full of connections. I went to a reception at Stockholm City Hall about ten years ago and there was a performance by the singers and musicians who take part in the Nobel Ceremony. And just two days ago I attended a performance by the Sheffield Medics Choir where Alexander's girlfriend was singing.

Kat Mortensen said...

I feel certain Dr. Tatum must have had an A-ha! moment while playing or cleaning his horn. Perhaps it was his high school music career that led to his interest in bacteria in the first place. I imagine him dragging his huge horn into a Biology class to show the teacher his discoveries ( or even doing after hours experiments with this unusual host.

I'm wondering now when Tatum O' Neal was born? Could her name be connected to this prize-winner?

Charming, witty and informative as always, Mike. Thanks!

Kat Mortensen said...

I' m a serial parenthesis-dropper, by the way.

Tattered and Lost said...

I will never look at the horn section in an orchestra the same way again. A veritable goldmine of disease just waiting to happen!


Everything you put to/in your mouth has its own bacterial bagage and you also leave some of your own in/on it. for having seen Petri dishes myself, you don't even want to contemplate that fact. No, I've never put one in my mouth, if that's what you were thinking...

Interesting post!!


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