November 13, 2020
VINCENNES, Ind. – This fall semester looks unlike anything seen
before. Faces are behind masks. Social distancing is the new normal.
Certain scenes on campus barely resemble what we are used to seeing,
particularly in the Vincennes University Performing Arts Department
and music ensembles.
Inside classrooms and practice spaces, you see something never seen
before the pandemic. Students are playing instruments and singing
while wearing masks or other types of face coverings, and the
instruments are even wearing “masks.”
“I am grateful I get to make music still,” said Hallie Swenson, a
vocal and instrumental music major from Veedersburg, Indiana, who
plays horn and trumpet. “Even though it is a bit difficult to make
music, I'm thankful for the opportunity. I’m also in choir, so I get
the best of both worlds.”
By using customized personal protective equipment (PPE), VU students
and faculty are safely making the music they love during a pandemic.
“It is such a blessing to be able to be back on campus making music
with others,” said Adonia Meiss, a conservation law enforcement major
from DeMotte, Indiana, who plays the tenor saxophone.
“Last year, when we all got sent back home, being able to be in the
same atmosphere as others, and making music is the one thing I missed
the most. There is nothing that can truly replace that feeling. Even
though this year is a lot different, I think we all are so happy to be
making music together again!”
When VU pivoted to remote learning last spring due to a stay-at-home
order in Indiana, music faculty and students shifted from classrooms
to video conferencing platforms. Making music on Zoom is not ideal.
Performing Arts Department Chair and Director of Bands Susie Jackson
and Adjunct Music Professor Joyce Kim-Rohrer spent the summer
researching ways for students and faculty to best make music in person
together. They adopted recommendations and safety protocols put forth
in a highly respected University of Colorado Boulder study tailored
for music activities and the use of PPE.
"With the threat of Covid, I think this PPE is important to keep
everyone safe and healthy," said Katelyn Pruitt, a trombone
player and pre-veterinary major from Marshall, Indiana. “I would not
want to get Covid and be away from school for so long nor do I want
that for others. Or for others to be away from work for two weeks.”
Music connects us, evokes positive emotions, and feeds our souls,
which serves a great purpose during these unprecedented times.
“It feels great to play with others and hear what we can produce,”
Pruitt said. “If I am upset or angry, music calms me. My band classes
are usually my happy place.”
Creating music together as a group during a pandemic is not simple.
When playing woodwind instruments such as the clarinet, saxophone,
and flute, aerosols or a fine spray escapes through the finger holes
and could spread the Covid-19 coronavirus. Brass instruments like the
trumpet, trombone, and tuba also produce aerosols primarily through
the bells of the instruments.
To mitigate the aerosols, students playing woodwind instruments are
covering their instruments in specially made, washable bags that are
three layers and include a filter. The bags are made of a special
fabric and close around the hands of the person playing the instrument.
Students playing brass instruments are using double-layer bell covers
with additional filter inserts that go over the open ends of their
instruments. The covers and filters change the resonance of the
instruments, making it a little more difficult to play than normal.
“All of this does affect the sound a little bit, but not as much as
we all thought it was going to,” Jackson said.
Woodwind and brass players are also wearing custom masks with slits
for their mouths. Flaps cover the slits when they are not playing.
“It obviously feels a lot different playing with this equipment, but
I remind myself that this is the safest way to be able to play,” Meiss said.
VU vocalists are using face shields in addition to face masks during
choral ensembles, voice lessons, and other classes that incorporate singing.
Additional protocols are in place. Students and faculty practice
social distancing. Instruments are never shared. Rooms and practice
spaces are cleaned after use. Hand sanitizer is also readily available.
“There are probably some schools that aren’t going to the lengths we
are,” Jackson said. “Our faculty, staff, and dean feel like we are
doing more to be safe. We feel better at the end of the day knowing
that we are trying to do what we can to help the students and yet
still be able to create music.”
Unable to find at the time what the Performing Arts Department and
music students needed, Kim-Rohrer and a local community volunteer took
it upon themselves to design and create the instrument bags and masks
provided to students free of charge.
Kim-Rohrer and Rev. Cheryl Thorne of Westminster Presbyterian Church
in Washington, Indiana, designed six patterns for all the woodwind
instruments. Thorne sewed the bags and donated her time because she
wants to play a role in helping protect students.
“I am passionate about music and music education,” Kim-Rohrer said.
“Music just calls to people. It helps their soul. It helps their
mental health. It’s expressive. It’s needed at all times. But we also
have to keep safe. It makes me feel good to know that we’ve done our
best to help our students be safe.”
Jackson recalls the day when faculty and students came together in
person for the first time this semester.
“It was really cool to be back together,” she said. “You could hear
it in the way they played. If you were in the room, you could hear and
feel the energy. It was almost like electricity in the air that hadn’t
been there since before we shut down.”
Using the PPE has taken some getting used to.
Haley Canfield, a nursing major from Crown Point, Indiana, uses a
mask, face shield, and instrument bag when playing her flute and piccolo.
“I felt like I was re-learning how to play my instrument,” she said.
That said, Canfield is willing to do whatever it takes to do what she loves.
“Making music together in person feels wonderful,” she said. “Despite
all the precautions and severity of the situation, it is better than
trying to play together on Zoom! We are making the best of it and
trying to look at all of the positives.
“This pandemic has not been easy for anyone in any situation. But it
is important we all look and think about the positives in each
situation, and be able to adapt to changes as they come.”
Want to see the VU Performing Arts Department making music
together live and safely?
Watch the virtual “A Gala Concert” beginning Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. ET via
YouTube. The concert showcases a variety of VU Music student
performing groups. The performance is pre-recorded, and due to
University protocols, a live audience was not in attendance. Physical
distancing between the performing groups as well as within each group
“Guitars in the Night” is another pre-recorded concert by the VU
Music program and features a wide variety of literature and musical
styles. It will be presented via YouTube beginning Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.
ET. All performers are properly masked and socially distanced, and
singers use face shields in addition to face masks.
These musical celebrations are available next week at the VU Music
YouTube page: https://youtube.com/channel/UCTbt_9FXAX5xzSfhJEyrUEg