Music, Science and Engineering – Heavy Wind Instrument Stand


John MacKey, showcases the new heavy wind instrument music stand, he and Stephen Holgate collaborated on to invent, photo courtesy Australian National University ANU

Have you ever wondered how those musicians playing heavy wind instruments, develop the stamina and strength to hold up their chosen instrument for hours on end?

Must say I have. My youngest son used to play the brass beast, a Euphonium (a smaller Tuba) during his teenage years, and I often wondered how he held it up while playing the keys at the same time?

Spinal, neck and back problems and the constant nature of rehearsals and performance have contributed to many fine musician’s careers being cut short.

Now that’s all about to end, with a special collaboration at Australia’s National University (ANU).


John MacKey and Stephen Holgate who collaborated on to invent, photo courtesy Australian National University ANU

It seems the ANU Music department has an entrepreneurial musician in its ranks.

Saxophonist John MacKey from the ANU School of Music and Stephen Holgate from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering have spent time together over a two year period, while they invent an all new instrument stand, especially for heavy wind instrument players.

The aim was to assist musicians to enjoy a career free of injury. Mr MacKey already has back problems, and so his own need was urgent.


Breakdown of all new heavy wind instrument stand, photo courtesy Australian National University ANU

The new stand, which breaks down into simple components and is easy to put up and take down, will help to take the weight off the necks of many musicians. It can be used in both rehearsals and performance and is an elegant solution.

Mr Holgate said the stand would especially benefit young musicians who are going to move through the industry. “Prevention is far better than cure,” said Mr Holgate, Engineer and Technical Officer at the RSPE Mechanical workshop.


Steven Holgate with all new heavy wind instrument stand he invented in collaboration with musician John McKey, photo courtesy Australian National University ANU

It’s not dissimilar to a large balance scale. You’ve got the weight of the instrument at one end and then a balance arm and counter weight at the other.”  Mr Holgate said.

Mr Holgate and Mr Mackey have spent some 18 months refining and testing the instrument stand, which can be used for the bassoon, the bass clarinet, oboe, saxophone and clarinet.


Helping John McKey to hit the high notes, new heavy wind instrument stand, photo courtesy Australian National University ANU

“It lifts the whole weight off, so you have to remind yourself that there’s actually a saxophone around your neck,” Mr Mackey said.

RSPE Director Professor Tim Senden observed the production of the stand was a great example of two schools within ANU working together to create an invention that would be beneficial to musicians.

“This is one of those beautiful innovations that happens when technical excellence meets unmet need,” Professor Senden said. “I’m thrilled to see physics support music, one of those uniquely ANU opportunities.”

There will be a lot of happy heavy instrument musicians out there after today.

The good news is now John MacKey and Steven Holgate have completed this task they are going to see what they can do for brass and string players as well. With lots of interest flooding in from the States and Europe, it augurs well for Aussie initiative.

Musicians wishing to enquire should contact John Mackey – Email [email protected]

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016


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