School districts are trying to figure out how to safely bring students back into schools in the fall, and one big question mark is what instruction will look like for instrumental music and choir.
If you think about students standing together playing brass or woodwinds or singing, there’s potential for the coronavirus to spread in the air through droplets. A choir practice on March 17 in Skagit County demonstrates the risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated it as a superspreader event that led to dozens of people becoming ill with confirmed or probable COVID-19. Two people died.
So groups including the National Association for Music Education are giving districts guidance on how to reduce risk. A University of Colorado researcher is studying the aerosols that are emitted when people play wind instruments, sing or act. The results of that study will help shape how classes resume in person.
Some possible changes include “music classes happening in larger spaces — so even looking at gyms or moving outside or being in the cafeteria where they can be socially distanced and still maintain their large ensemble size,” said Gail Sehlhorst, visual and performing arts manager for Seattle Public Schools.
Other likely changes include no longer having students share music stands or instruments. Pamela Ivezic, K-12 instrumental services music coach for Seattle Public Schools, said it’s often been common that students share larger instruments.
“In an orchestra, you would share a bass or a cello because basses are extremely difficult to move and they’re not allowed on buses,” Ivezic said. “Cellos are also difficult, and larger brass instruments like tubas and also some woodwind instruments, as well.”
But Sehlhorst said one thing district leaders are cognizant of is the importance of performing arts classes for students’ social and emotional well-being. She said many students develop a community through music classes and she hopes that will continue even if school does not resume with a traditional five-day-a-week, in-person schedule.