Making Music with Masks

As the school year is soon coming to an end, choral and instrumental musicians will soon be able to showcase their talents and skills through the annual Spring Arts Showcase. However, because of the impacts of COVID-19, our teachers Ms. Megan Eddy and Dr. Brent Dodson as well as singers and musicians have adjusted to the COVID-19 restrictions, rehearsing over Zoom and preparing for the virtual concert. 

“Everything is different from last year,” said Ms. Eddy. “Singing and choirs is about the highest level of risk in terms of spreading the virus.” Since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, Ms. Eddy has stayed online, teaching and directing her students through Zoom. With students on campus, they are not allowed to rehearse inside classrooms or buildings, so singers have been practicing outside in the loading dock near the art classrooms or outside the Studio in the patio while social distancing with masks. 

“With masks, I can’t really hear anything,” said Ms. Eddy, “and it is very difficult for me to hear [from my house] with the Owl camera.” Ms. Eddy also describes that because the Owl easily picks up on sound and rotates, the camera starts rotating everywhere which has been one of the biggest challenges. In addition to muffled voices under masks, the challenge of hearing through background noise of breezes and Freeway 73 behind the school makes it even more difficult to hear. Also, when all students and Ms. Eddy are online over Zoom, it has been troubling to hear the entire choir sing at once because Zoom does not pick up multiple sounds at the same time. 

“[The students and I] take risks together and we grow together, and that bonds us. Not having that communal family feeling, [with] all of us being separated at our homes,… it has been a really, really challenging experience for my singers,” said Ms. Eddy. Choral music and singing is often an inclusive activity of the community, and things have not been the same since the start of the pandemic. In response to the obstacles of singing together over Zoom and at school, Ms. Eddy has had her singers create music by themselves by recording themselves singing to the camera, and eventually, assembled into a video compilation format similar to previous virtual showcases. 

“Most students are fine with masks and playing, it is just harder because we have to sit farther from one another, making it more difficult to hear one another” said instrumental teacher Dr. Brent Dodson. 

Dr. Dodson said that the String Orchestra, Guitar Ensemble, and the Arts Survey Guitar classes have been able to play normally with masks on. However, the most challenging part of COVID-19 restrictions has been having students sit six feet apart. 

The only music group that cannot play with masks on is the Wind Ensemble, so the group only rehearses outside using a social distanced seating arrangement. It is tricky for all of the players to perform together because of the weather conditions at school, instrument constraints, and separation of students in person and on a distanced learning modality. 

“We have taken on a few projects of music making that do not require masks, including bucket drumming and the use of other percussion instruments to make music together” said Dodson. It is amazing to see how the music department has adapted to these difficult circumstances and continues to provide students with a creative outlet and a way to express themselves musically. 

As a music teacher, Dr. Dodson expressed how teaching music while wearing a mask is challenging because a music director needs to use facial expressions to communicate. He can’t use the nonverbal communications that he usually makes to lead students. As a result, Dr. Dodson has learned to use his arms and certain body postures to lead musicians and to speak louder to help students make corrections while they are playing. 

After working very hard all school year, the Guitar Ensemble, String Orchestra, and Wind Ensembles are creating a virtual concert at the end of the semester unlike any of the traditional concerts normally presented at Sage Hill. Students are using a more experimental technique to record their pieces individually and edit the performances to create a virtual concert. 

Soon, both the choral ensembles and instrumental ensembles will release their annual Spring Concert in early June. Make sure to watch both ensembles’ Virtual Fall Concerts which has been previously posted on the Sage Hill School website, and be on the lookout for these exciting performances of Sage Hill’s talented, hardworking singers and musicians in the next few months!