Band, choirs confront COVID-19 restrictions
Last updated 2/13/2021 at 2:21pm
CLOVIS — Over the last few months, a “Let Them Play” movement built steam in support of prep athletics, and indications are those will soon be starting again.
However, a different group is also looking to play again, as music programs continue to fight for the opportunities to perform in public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am so happy and tickled that the athletics are having the opportunity to play and do their passion,” Clovis High Band Director Bill Allred said. “These kids need it, and kids are suffering in this situation more than most people realize. And the kids need activities. They need these athletics and music and band, they need these in their lives.”
Restrictions on music programs have not yet been adjusted by the state to coincide as school districts are entering hybrid learning models. Band students are not allowed to play instruments in person, choir students cannot practice during class, and elementary students cannot sing during their in-person “specials” time.
“I think the message right now to our state leadership,” Music Education Director Brandon Boerio said, “is just simply that we believe we have the scientific evidence to allow our students to participate safely and as a school district for the Clovis schools we've taken steps necessary to have the PPE and the other things that we need in place to keep our students safe.”
In an email sent to members of the community, Boerio provided information regarding the safety of music programs as proven by aerosol studies done during the pandemic.
“The National Association for Music Education and the National Federation of High Schools conducted an aerosol study last summer specifically related to the participation of students in musical settings,” the email read. “Their findings, which have been updated throughout the school year, show that with the correct PPE, air filtration, and distancing practices, students can participate safely.”
He added in the email that the study conducted by NFHS had participants who were unknowingly positive with COVID-19. Yet with the proper protocols in place no transmission of the virus occurred, and no transmission has occurred in any music program that practiced the safety mitigations suggested by the study.
Boerio believes musical performances got an unfair stigma early in the pandemic, when the virus was spread in choir practices. He believes much of that spread was the result of a lack of other mitigation.
“They weren't doing all of the other things we know to do now,” Boerio said. “We really feel like we have the science. And we're one of the few states in the country not singing and playing. The others that have (started) and have followed that national guidance as far as PPE and distancing, they have been successful at letting students play and sing without spreading the virus. We're just asking for the same opportunity for our students.”
Various safety procedures have since been used, including special masks for singing and playing instruments, bell covers for instruments and social distancing overall.
“If the athletics go really well, which I absolutely believe they will, then they're going to OK that step to work and then the next step to work,” Allred said, adding that band director colleagues from across the country have made things work for their programs. “Texas, they did their state contest with bell covers. And as long as the protocol is in place, the safety net is in place, then kids can do this safely.”
Allred said that with the pandemic came many severe program impacts, most notably the loss of the entire fall competition season.
“I've had a lot of kids telling me this semester, “I just don't have passion to play into a computer,’” Allred said. “I understand that, I know it's been very devastating, particularly to two senior classes in a row. The kids have worked hard, they've done the best that they can, they've hung in there and have been real troopers in this situation. They are looking forward to normalcy coming. Of course this week being a huge step in the right direction.”
He said that students like his daughter had originally struggled with the idea of returning to school on a hybrid schedule because of limitations on social interactions and a cohort system that separates friends. But the answer they’ve come around to is that current conditions are one more necessary step towards normalcy.
Sean Galloway, Head Choral Director at CHS, added that the choir program has had to reinvents itself under COVID guidelines, and as a result lost much of the camaraderie of what used to be a family-like atmosphere. He is concerned about the impact on mental health that restrictions have had on music students.
“It is time for us to learn how to live with it and figure out ways to create music in a safe way so that our students can regain something they lost. They have lost so much. They have lost time, relationships, academics, life experiences and the list goes on and on. But most of all, they have lost a sense of themselves. Musicians are people who express their emotions through performances and that is their gift to the world,” Galloway said. “It is time to give them back their gift. Give them back their personality, their self worth. It is time to make music again.”
While high school music programs are often the first to come to mind, elementary schools normally offer music as a “specials” time for students. Brian Uerling, Lead Elementary Music Teacher for CMS, said teaching young students about their voice has been delayed.
“Singing is the primary vehicle for music education in the elementary schools,” Uerling said. “Research justifies the importance of using the singing voice in the development of young musicians. It is the way that melodic musical patterns are learned and stored. Without the storage of these patterns in the brain, musical expression and artistry becomes limited over time. Children need to learn to match pitch and sing with accuracy. You can't do this only by listening to music, you have to create it,”
Uerling added that with social distancing and masks implemented, “there are no studies which indicate that singing in that situation is any more of a risk than talking or laughing.”
In a response to a request for comment on changing restrictions for music equation programs, Carolyn Graham, Director of Communications for NMPED said on Friday that the state will make chances as new information allows.
“We continue to monitor CDC guidelines,” Graham said, “and other data and remain diligent in making sure staff, students, and families remain as safe as possible while also recognizing that these programs fulfill an important need in our schools.”