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
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

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 L. 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!


   UPDATE: 11 April 2017   

This week I had the distinct pleasure
of playing Dr. Edward L. Tatum's horn
and meeting his nephew, Art Tatum,
who is the owner of this instrument.

Art contacted me last year after finding my blog story on his uncle, Dr. Edward Lawrie Tatum.
He writes:

I am the nephew of Ed Tatum, and I have inherited "The Nobel Horn", shown in the press photograph. The horn is a single F horn of unknown age marked Lorenzo SansoneNew York on the bell, but curiously with “Made in Czechoslovakia” engraved on the lead pipe brace. I am also a horn player, as was my grandfather Arthur Lawrie Tatum, and my father Howard J. Tatum, who was Edward L. Tatum's brother. I have been using my father's King double horn and years ago lent Ed's horn to my niece, who is quite an accomplished horn player. She played it until she was about 10.

She quickly outgrew Ed's single horn, and now has her own Conn, and recently returned Ed's horn to me. It was for this reason that I searched on the internet for "E. L. Tatum and French Horn", looking for a link to send her, as I have clippings of Ed with the horn in his papers. I also seem to be the default family genealogist and archivist.

My grandfather Arthur Lawrie Tatum, who was chairman of Pharmacology at University of Wisconsin, did not have the money for music lessons for his children Ed, Howard, and Bessie. Yet he somehow learned to play horn and flute, likely with help from his friends on the music faculty, and taught Ed and Howard the horn, and Bessie the flute. My father's horn is a curious King double with a piston valve for the B flat horn, circa 1930 acquired when my father was about 14.

Both Ed and Howard were accomplished horn players, and I will attempt to find orchestras or concert bands that Ed played in.  There is a note in the Rockefeller University, E.L. Tatum archives, noting that he was trying to get a woodwind quintet, or some chamber group together, and indicated that there was some interest from other faculty. But I don't know if it ever happened.

I know my father played in the University of Wisconsin orchestra and concert band, and I have images of Howard and Bessie, but not Ed, who was a bit older, in images from the Interlochen Arts Camp. Ironically, at least to horn players, the guest conductor for the final summer camp concert, was none other than the bane of horn players everywhere who loathe endless afterbeats, yes, John Philip Sousa himself!  I still have the fingering for On Wisconsin in my muscle memory bank. Wisconsin was so bad at football in my tenure in the marching band, that we played On Wisconsin even when we just got a first down. Nonetheless we had the best sounding marching band in the big 10, as music majors were not allowed to play in the concert band or orchestra, unless they served time every year in the marching band.

Art also sent me a wonderful photo
of himself and his wife Peggy
posed in a reenactment
of Edward and Viola Tatum's
newspaper photo.

But as any horn player knows
there are times
when our noble instrument
becomes the Ignoble Horn!

Art provided the accompanying caption.

Edward’s nephew, Art Tatum, no relation or musical comparison to the famous Jazz Pianist,
enjoys playing Ed's Sansone single F horn.
His wife, Peggy, registers “approval”.
(horror really, as some awful cracked notes were played to elicit the appropriate faces)

Thanks, Art.

Fort Lauderdale FL News
31 October 1958

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 Killeen 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!

Bruno Laliberté said...

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!!


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP