With safety in mind, schools are getting their bands back together

Schools are bringing their bands back together with safety in mind
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Band and choir classes last year were far from normal. Students practiced outside or over Zoom. Many students are excited to be back at school in the fall and take part in music classes that seem almost normal. Frank Papetti, senior tenor saxophonist, is one example.

He exclaims, "Oh my god, I'm so excited!" "I love playing my instrument," Papetti says. He is a member the Westwood High School wind ensemble, which is located 24 miles south from Boston.

He said last year was difficult. Due to the school's hybrid schedule, about half of his classes were taken remotely. Students in music classes had to muffle their microphones so they could play along at home.

"Yeah you feel isolated," says Papetti. It can turn you off in some ways. It's not something you really want to do. You are not heard by anyone.

Heather Cote, Westwood High School's wind ensemble director, said that the group was able practice outdoors last year but it became more difficult as the weather got cooler. The schedule was not ideal for music classes. Her students were divided into two groups that attended school in person on different days.

Cote explains, "You didn’t have the whole group together so sometimes the balance wasn’t right and you had too much of one instrument because all of the others were in the other cohort."

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Cote says, "The first time we were here this fall and they all played together. I started to cry."

This year, things look a bit different in wind ensemble: The black filters cover most instruments' bells at the point where sounds and aerosols come out of the wind instrument.

"Honestly, it doesn’t make that much difference," Papetti states. It doesn't make you sound any different.

Best practices for performers have guided this return to indoor, in-person play.

After a Washington State choir became the first COVID-19 superpreader event, more than 100 performing arts organizations raised funds to fund a pioneering study.

"When we saw that incident, we were like, 'Yep. This is going to be detrimental all things performing arts, if we don’t figure out how we can do it," Dr. James Weaver of National Federation of State High School Associations says.

Weaver and Dr. Mark Spede, College Band Directors National Association, teamed up to support research to stop the spread of the virus within performing arts venues. They began investigating the issue as early as April 2020.

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Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of Maryland conducted the study by asking performers to sing in a single room. To visualize the spread of aerosols from singers and instruments, researchers used high-speed cameras and lasers.

Dr. Jelena Strebric of University of Maryland says, "When you put on a mask or bell cover the area directly affected by a breathe shrinks by one third which is huge."

According to the study, authors recommended that performing arts groups use bell covers for their bands and masks for their choruses indoors. They recommend physical distancing, air filtration, and outdoor play whenever possible.

Weaver states that approximately 20 states require these steps, and 20 others have some recommendation.

The Wellesley High School Jazz Ensemble is based in Massachusetts. The group is taking it a step further. Junior Max Goldenson pointed out that even though he is playing his trumpet, he is wearing a mask.

He explains that there is a hole in its center, and that each side has a magnet. This allows you to clip it shut when you aren't playing.

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About 40 members of Wellesley High’s Keynote Singers are also back together in the hall. They are rehearsing The Lonesome Road by James Taylor.

This is our community. This is where we find joy every day. Senior Nora Jarquin says that it's a time to take a break from schoolwork. "All of my friends are in these choruses and in these groups. It was really difficult to lose all of them. That's something we don't want again."

With these new protection measures, they all hope that they won't be.