There is a lot that goes into providing music education, especially during a pandemic. Thanks to months of research and planning, CCES musical ensembles are prepared for the show, or at least the learning, to go on. Robin Garner, Director of the Arts, and Grady McEvoy, Hartness Performing Arts Center Facility/Production Manager, knew from the onset of COVID-19 that the act of singing and the breath it requires was surely going to be a problem during a global respiratory pandemic, which is why they began fervently researching options to ensure that CCES students could return to not just to choir, but to regular music classes, orchestra, and band as well.
Fundamentally, all performing arts groups at CCES are taking extra precautions that came from a study by the International Coalition of Performing Arts. For starters, band and orchestra classes sit in a loose constellation, dispersed throughout the room versus placement in their typical arch (the most ideal arrangement for blending of sounds). But the seating arrangement is just the first quagmire our arts faculty has had to solve for. Choir students are using a special facemask called The Singer’s Mask. Developed by Broadway professionals, The Singer’s Mask helps contain aerosols (tiny particles emitted when we exhale) while allowing plenty of space around the mouth to sing comfortably. All wind instrumentalists are wearing a split facemask, which provides access to the mouth with the nose still covered. Lisa Allen, Theatre Costumer and Production Assistant, sewed each split mask herself, after experimenting with eight or nine different prototypes. The instruments themselves are getting a range of accompaniments as well, from bell covers to canvas bags (also sewed by Allen) and other instrument bags— all of which work to reduce the aerosol flow from wind instruments. Flutists even get their very own plastic bubble-type tent to practice inside.
It may sound a bit awkward, but it is actually all very inspiring. Jenny James, Band Director, says the students are being surprisingly good sports about it. “Ultimately, these are small inconveniences that allow them to continue playing the instruments they love.”
Every thirty minutes, classes take a short break so that the particles hanging in the air, and the amount of infectious virus they might carry, can cycle through the newly installed bipolar ionization virus mitigation system, installed by our HVAC vendor.
In Lower School music classes, in addition to staying six feet apart, teacher Joy Hughes has had to make numerous accommodations. “We can still play games,” she says, “but now we are staying in one spot with masks, of course. We play instruments (mostly drums so far), and I clean them in between classes. I'm planning to get some small instruments that are easier to clean.” There is extra time built into the schedule this year in between classes for the air to filter. Fogging is also done in between classes for the carpet. “Singing is really different,” she added. “We are humming in masks for very short times. Mostly, we sing when we can go outside and be ten feet apart and still in masks. It's very different, but the positive effects of creating movement, playing, and responding to music are still alive and well.”
When it comes to activities that make students feel safe, understood, and challenged, few can match the magic of music. We are thankful for our faculty and staff who have worked so hard to create a plan to bring music students back to choir, band, and orchestra classes in a safe manner. “I feel very lucky to be teaching at CCES,” said Ms. Hughes. “The efforts to take care of us all have been tremendous. It is a great gift to be in the classroom with students.”
Click here to pictures from CCES music classes.