Katherine Hammond

Katherine Hammond, Bassoon

Kathie Hammond Web

You can’t smoke on airplanes. Neither will you be breathing second hand smoke on airplanes and that’s because of Kathie Hammond. Yes, you read that right. It was her research that led to today’s smoking bans.

Kathie was born in Philadelphia and moved around a bit to Kansas City and then Lima, Ohio. She started to play clarinet in second grade in Lima because a door-to-door salesman sold her mom on lessons. But then her front teeth fell out and that was the end of that.

Kathie tried clarinet again in fourth grade and continued this time, although her family couldn’t really afford a good clarinet. She struggled with a broken one. In eighth grade, her band teacher asked her to switch to bassoon because the bassoonist was graduating and the school could rent her a bassoon cheaply. “I thought it was a horrible instrument that made horrible noises,” she says. But she kind of had a crush on the music teacher so she agreed. “After about 3 weeks I fell in love with the bassoon.” She realized that the previous student just wasn’t very good. Hence the horrible noises.

“Bassoonists just get drunk on the low notes,” Kathie says. They reverberate through your body and it’s a wonderful feeling. All through high school, Kathie went all the way to Columbus for a monthly lesson at Ohio State. She then went to Oberlin for college, and had to decide: music versus science. Science. Nonetheless, she continued playing. After graduating from Oberlin with a degree in chemistry, she went to Brandeis University in Boston where she got a PhD in Chemistry, along with a Masters from the Harvard School of Public Health. She then taught (Boston University/Wheaton College/Harvard/University of Massachusetts Medical School) for 20 years! Kathie also belonged to the musicians union, playing with “lower echelon” orchestras in Boston. The bassoon just kept Kathie drunk all that time.

But UC Berkeley had its eyes on her. “They recruited me,” Kathie says. At first it was “no,” because she loved New England. Then it was “maybe.” And finally “yes.” That was in 1994 and she’s now a Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health, specializing in evaluating exposures to airborne contaminants. “And I just love it here.”

The hardest thing about moving here was losing her musical connections. She went to Forrest music and heard about Prometheus because a temp bassoon was needed. She temped in 1996, and eventually became our principal bassoonist. And she now also plays with the Berkeley Bach Cantata Group, the Kona Winds quintet and the Tara woodwinds quartet.
So what about those airplanes? At the request of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop Kathie did breakthrough research into the effects of second hand smoke. It showed conclusively that it was very harmful. FAA banned smoking on airplanes about 25 years ago. “It was a gradual ban,” Kathie says. First no smoking on trips of two hours or less, then longer flights, then all flights. And now, almost everywhere.

So take a clean deep breath and say, “yeahy!,” for Kathie, our now long-time bassoonist!

~Joyce Vollmer

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