By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Schools across the diocese have adjusted their band and choir programs to allow for social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Music classrooms moved to larger spaces. Some schools practiced outdoors when the weather allowed for it. Most schools opted to broadcast concerts online for family and friends in the absence of an in-person audience.
Stewart Beyer, director of vocal music at Holy Trinity Junior/Senior High School in Fort Madison, said the school suspended singing activities for the junior high during the fall semester. That decision was due to the number of students and schedule complications, “following guidelines given by a coordinated aerosol study offered to Iowa music educators.”
In lieu of singing/performance, the junior high choir transitioned to project-based learning. “We spent a lot of time listening to and evaluating music, as well as learning about different genres and artists.” This semester, “in light of recent studies and observations, we will be singing, but with a focus on rudimentary theory and skills.”
The high school students have been able to sing individually and as a group with masks while socially distanced “because of lower numbers in the high school and the availability of a large rehearsal space.”
While no live choral programs have occurred this year, “our high school has recorded and shared multiple songs, as well as spent time caroling around our school district during the Christmas season.”
Beyer believes music “is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, and whether we are performing music or experiencing it otherwise, I find it absolutely paramount to continue music education in some form or fashion.”
One of the biggest changes for the choir program at Assumption High School in Davenport has been the elimination of many in-person performances and competitions, said Trevor Loes, vocal music and choir director. Although two singers were selected to the Iowa All-State Chorus, the chorus did not meet to perform as it usually would.
“We couldn’t sing as part of the QC Arts Festival of Trees, we couldn’t record music for KWQC’s Choirs for Christmas, vocal jazz festivals have been cancelled, and I usually take students to four collegiate honor choirs.”
Traditionally, the Assumption choir sings at two Sunday Masses in Scott County each semester. That has not happened this academic year due to diocesan restrictions on singing. Some activities, such as the IHSMA District Solo/Small Ensemble Festival, went virtual this year. Loes hopes that a couple events slated to take place later this school year will be able to take place in person.
The choir students have utilized “singer masks,” made with love by Loes’ mother-in-law, Marie Ziegler, and her friend Judy Luster. These masks cover the nose and mouth as a traditional mask would, but provide more room in the mouth area to allow students to sing with more freedom. Each singer received two, one to use on a daily basis and one to use in performance. Venues for concerts have changed to allow for social distancing, he said.
“Our students have been amazing and they are the biggest success story,” Loes said. “They have adapted and tolerated these new rehearsal habits extremely well, and persevered despite these challenges.”
Elsewhere on campus, band director Erin Mahr said she feels fortunate to meet with her band daily. “I have 60 students in band, so we’re able to rehearse in the auditorium seats and space out comfortably. Mary Thompson, a band parent, made bell covers for instruments which helps greatly reduce the aerosol transmission of germs.”
The band performed a Christmas concert on Dec. 6, performing on the floor of the large gym rather than in the auditorium. The school limited attendance to two audience members per performer, kept the performance time to about 45 minutes, and streamed the performance on YouTube for those who were unable to attend. Mahr hopes to continue streaming concerts, even after the pandemic, “so that family members and fans who live far away can also watch their favorite Assumption band members. That’s one of the silver linings of the pandemic — there’s no reason why I couldn’t have streamed concerts before, I had just never thought of it!”
Mahr is thankful that the students are able to perform and use music as an outlet. “At a time in which most of their regular, normal life is cancelled or altered, music remains.”