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UMaine band adjusts to performing amid COVID-19 guidelines

Among the many changes students at the University of Maine are facing, band students are having to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions which allows them to continue making music this semester despite the pandemic. 

“We [band members] are masked, mitigated, and distanced,” Christopher White, director of symphonic band, sports band and the Maine Summer Youth Music camp, said. “We went through a lengthy approval process through the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on campus all the way to the president’s office. In addition to campus and civic guidance, we are using guidance derived from an ongoing study of instruments and aerosols in Colorado and Maryland sponsored by the College Band Directors Association (CBDNA) and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).”

The marching band is rehearsing, socially distanced, behind the Buchanan Alumni House. They are refraining from sharing instruments or wearing uniforms. The students exit and enter their rehearsals in smaller groups to maintain social distancing, and movement within routines is being minimized as much as possible. Students are also covering instruments  in trash bags to prevent the potential aerosol spread of the virus. Special cloth bags are being purchased to eventually replace the trash bags and improve sound quality using the Sports Band Budget. 

 “As a section leader, I’ve been charged with making sure that all the flute players have their instruments properly covered (with the trash bags), with holes in the side for their hands,” Lauren Burkard, a co-section leader for flutes in the marching band, said. “I also had to explain how to properly cut a slit on each side of a fabric mask so that we could weave the head joint of the flute through it. That way we can still produce a clear sound, but no aerosol is being exposed to others.”

“Other woodwinds (saxophones, clarinets, etc.) are taking the same precautions,” Buckard continued. “Brass players are putting bell covers over their bells and switching masks in between playing, as they have to place their mouthpieces in from the back of their playing masks.” 

Burkard also described how the sound of their band was affected by these new rules and how they overcame that challenge. “With the mitigation, I would say that the sound is definitely a bit muffled, but with exaggerated tonguing and more breath support, we have made it sound completely normal,” Burkard stated.

The band has two upcoming EOC-approved events at Morse Field. Their first one occurred on Friday, Sept. 25. Each event will be recorded and live streamed.

 “I am very excited for virtual concerts, as are many other performing arts students,” Burkard said. “For most of the ensembles that I’m currently part of, we are either live streaming our performances or recording them for future viewing. It does feel strange at times; as performers, we are so used to having an audience that claps immediately after we’re done. The way the band is now, we’ll finish a song and just have a rustling of papers as we take out the next piece. [It’s] definitely something to adjust to, but if this is what it takes for the band to continue then I am more than happy to do it.” 

Burkard isn’t alone in sharing her enthusiasm and willingness to comply with COVID-19 precautions. Other band members expressed how grateful they were to be able to continue playing music even though things look a bit different this semester. White shared a similar sentiment.

“We are happy to be able to do something close to normal this semester,” White said.

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