Making Music During a Pandemic

Band and chorus, like many other extracurriculars, have had to readjust in the light of COVID-19.

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Choir and French teacher Ms. Ashly Thomas practices one on one with a student.

Kate Stout, Writer

The band and choir classrooms may be much quieter this year, but they have not been completely silenced. In the face of COVID-19 FCUS’s performing arts programs, band and chorus, have had to make some major adjustments. Trying to include online students in the class as well as maintaining a safe environment for those working in person is no easy feat, but teachers and students are working together to make that possible.

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The defining factor of any performing arts class is the ability to perform, but while that may not be happening this year, the decision has been made to allow students to still have rehearsals. For choir, that means that the students are still singing, just with masks. The choir and French teacher Ms. Ashly Thomas explained that this decision was far from easy to make.

“It was very, very nerve wracking,” Thomas shared. “I was terrified because there were several different publications and stories about some schools that went ahead with singing full time, with masks, without masks and infection rates at their school started to just go up.”

It was only within the last couple months that this decision was made as well. Earlier in the year the choir students were more focused on studying music theory as opposed to actual singing.

“We did a musical period project, we talked about Renaissance music,” Thomas explained. “We were using Google Chrome music lab where you get to play around and make sounds and rhythms and things like that.”

Band students this year are also being allowed to play, however, since playing most band instruments requires students to remove their masks, band director Mr. Brandon Cassill has had to take further precautions.

“The classroom setup is a little bit modified this year. All the chairs are facing forward. In a normal band setup, we would have arcs of students,” Cassill said. “We’ve had to separate the chairs, six feet in all directions. Some of the students also will put a piece of cloth over the bell to help with the droplets and the fumes that can still travel out of the instrument.”

While the choir students can keep their masks on while singing this has not prevented Thomas from exercising further precaution.

“So I’ll have a group of kids in the classroom and then I have a group of kids outside the classroom,” Thomas shared. “Then also take breaks and talk to the students so that we’re not just singing all the time.”

Freshman and clarinet player Jayden Jones warms up with the rest of the band.

Online Students

In person students may have to contend with the issue of safety, but online students still have their fair share of issues when trying to practice any sort of performing art.

“Everyone’s playing together and it kind of sounds weird on the computer,” Junior Taylor Sloss said. “It’s okay. It’s not the best.”

Sloss, who is a fully online student, may find this year’s band class far from perfect, but that does not mean she thought the class was all bad.

“(Mr. Cassill) just wants to make everyone comfortable and make everyone feel part of the band,” Sloss explained. “He’ll teach us individually and give us feedback on what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong.”

In the choir classroom, the teacher has also tried to find ways to keep the online students not just engaged with the class, but also with other students.

“When singing, we usually sing as a class both virtual and in person,” Freshman Jadalyse Dominguez explained. “She’s also had us join a Microsoft team meeting in separate groups so we can have our phones and we can work with our specific group that she assigned us in one on one.”

Future

While teachers and students cannot be entirely sure what the future must hold, they still have some hope about trying to perform before the end of the school year.

“As of right now there’s nothing scheduled. I would say that there will probably be one at the end of the year, depending on how the situation goes,” Cassill said. “I’d sure like to have one at the end of the year.”

Dominguez explained that while the choir program likely will not be having any performances at the school they did they get an opportunity to sing elsewhere this year.

“We did have a performance in October,” Dominguez shared. “We sung the national anthem at the Hilton Hotel.”

Thomas shared that even though band and choir are both performing arts classes they still have a lot more to offer students than just the ability to perform.

“A bigger portion of music is the preparation and like I said, the theory and stuff,” Thomas said. “So I’m not going to say that they have hindered their education, it’s just different this year, it’s a different experience.”

Some have even found a few hidden advantages of virtual learning.

“Independence is actually a big one that is an advantage of the students that are in person, students that are at home,” Cassill said. “They’re not, you know, immersed with other students around them the whole period, so they actually have to kind of play in a more exposed setting.”

This year has not been simple for any class, but teachers and students are ready to power through. Thomas had one final note regarding the FCUS performing arts programs to leave students on.

“I think once the COVID restrictions are lifted. I feel like it’s going to blossom. So yeah, this sucks. It’s not fun for anyone, especially teachers,” Thomas shared. “But I think it’s going to make us appreciate performance abilities so much more. And it’s going to make our sound so much better.”