It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on daily life for students, especially at school. For band and orchestra classes, though, this adjustment has been particularly difficult, as spacing students out and wearing masks dramatically affects individuals’ playing and rehearsal as a whole. The precautions and regulations put in place for Sarasota County Schools have forced music conductors and students at Pine View to make significant changes to the way their classes function.
In spring, when schools first shut down and moved online, Pine View Band Director Victor Mongillo knew there would be challenges when students returned.
“It wasn’t obvious then that we were done for the year, so I held out hope for some time, but once it became real that we were not going back, it was about setting up for the next year,” Mongillo said.
At that time, Mongillo, along with band directors from around the country, were waiting for the results of a study by the University of Colorado about aerosols and instruments. The study was eventually published in mid-July and the experts involved made recommendations on how to safely conduct rehearsals. Following these guidelines, Pine View Band is now rehearsing in the auditorium in order to effectively space out students, using bell covers on the ends of all the brass instruments to mitigate saliva in the air, and utilizing puppy pads to collect moisture from instruments. Students are also wearing special masks, which open in the middle to insert mouthpieces and close around them, and do not share music or music stands.
“A lot has been done to keep everyone safe, and we are just starting to get used to all of it,” Mongillo said.
In addition, remote band students are using a program called Smart Music, which allows them to access the music, rehearse their part and submit recordings to Mongillo as assignments so that he can give them feedback on their playing.
Students are adapting to the new rehearsal environment despite the deviation from rehearsals in previous years.
“Being a part of band at home is definitely different, but with Smart Music, and the way Mr. Mongillo is teaching, it’s the best that we can do. We still get to be a part of the band in some way,” tenth-grader Jordan Varghese said.
The Pine View Orchestra ensembles, on the other hand, do not have to worry about saliva with their instruments. Thus, many of the precautions which have become necessary for band do not apply to orchestra. However, there are some similar circumstances to which Pine View Orchestra Conductor Christopher Mink and his students have had to adjust.
For instance, remote students are not able to play alongside the rest of the ensemble. Instead, they focus more on individual practice. Mink makes the music accessible for students to print out and practice on their own, encouraging students to send in recordings if they want feedback on their playing. Once a week, the in-person students are put into sectionals to rehearse on their own for the period.
“We have discussions about the historical context of the music that the in-person students are playing. Mr. Mink devotes a lot of attention to the remote students, because it’s more difficult for them to practice on their own,” tenth-grader Nathan Widjaja said.
On campus, orchestra students are still rehearsing in the orchestra room, but class does not look exactly the same as previous years. Students are wearing masks at all times, tape on the floor indicates where chairs should be in order for students to be adequately spaced out, and the sharing of instruments and music is avoided as much as possible.
Nonetheless, for in-person students, orchestra still closely resembles the same class in previous years.
“It’s really not that different. We come to class, take out our instruments and music, tune, play our pieces, and then pack up our stuff,” twelfth-grader Ethan Halbreich said.
Of course, band and orchestra do not just rehearse; they also perform. Concerts, though, will face similar restrictions and adjustments. Mongillo plans for band to have their winter concert outdoors on the nights of December 8 and 9. Orchestra is still discussing options for their concert, but Mink is looking into the possibility of a virtual performance.
All around the world, musicians and other creatives have been deeply affected by this pandemic. Yet, just as the the orchestra and band programs at Pine View have, musicians have found ways to adjust and accommodate to this new normal. Under all the masks, through all the bell covers, and between all the distance, Pine View students and conductors continue to make music. But that does not mean the old ways of rehearsal are not missed.
“I think the students who are on Zoom really miss being here,” Mongillo said. “I hope that the students have gained an appreciation for how important playing music was in their daily lives. I know I have.”