Music programs within the schools adjust during a pandemic

This is a photo from the 5-6-grade band performing during the previous school year. Obviously things look a lot different for the music programs during COVID-19. For one, in-person concerts will no longer be held. (Express file photo)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     We’ve seen locally the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on sports and athletics. It’s also taken a toll on the vocal and band music departments as well.

     The Monticello School District’s K-4 Music Teacher, Nick Thumma, said the elementary grades are meeting as a class twice a week, which is the normal routine. The only difference? Thumma travels from classroom to classroom versus bringing all of the kids together in his room. Thumma said this is the same practice the art teacher does as well.

     Thumma uses a cart to transfer all of his equipment from room to room, holding musical instruments, a computer, books, flashcards, a speaker, and cleaning supplies.

     “All students wear facemasks at all times during music, and I do as well,” Thumma shared. “The students stay in their seats and the classroom teachers have them spread out nicely.”

     Thumma admitted that teaching music during a pandemic has been and continues to be challenging.

     “Music is very hands-on with instruments, games, and movements,” he explained. “I have to get creative to get instruments in students’ hands.”

     Thumma spent two weeks or more in August seeking donations and putting instrument kits together for the kids. For example, Spahn & Rose Lumber Company and the Treblemakers (vocal music boosters) donated materials for wooden rhythm sticks. Each student has his/her own homemade musical instrument kit labeled with the student’s name on the bag.

     “They are the only ones who can open that bag,” noted Thumma.

     For those doing online learning, Thumma utilizes online music curriculum and the smartboards in each of the classrooms.

     The fourth graders are still learning how to play the recorder, but they are not played while in school.

     “Sorry, parents,” joked Thumma.

     The fourth graders post videos of themselves performing songs on their recorders to Seesaw, allowing Thumma to watch it and make comments.

     “So we are still getting in the valuable lessons,” he added.

     Despite COVID, K-4 students are still being graded in music by completing the lessons and meeting thew standards.

     “Having both classroom and online students has been difficult, but I am managing the best I can,” admitted Thumma. “Obviously, in-person learning is best, but I think the majority of my online learners are participating and doing very well.”

     In terms of school concerts, those will be done virtually for the time being. A video will be posted in late December before Winter Break.

     “Each class will sing one song and will be videotaped in their individual classrooms,” explained Thumma. “We are trying to prevent students from coming into contact with other classrooms.”

     At Sacred Heart School, the fifth and sixth graders travel to the public school for band, with individual lessons at Sacred Heart.

     But for vocal music, that class is held inside the individual classrooms.

     “As we worked on filling a music teacher vacancy this year, we began to realize the structure of a traditional music classroom was going to be a challenge this year,” said Principal Laura Herbers. “Instead, the classroom teachers are fulfilling the music standards for their grade level.”

     Students are spaced out within the classrooms for vocal music.

     “However,” noted Herbers, “as with any subject, if there’s a possibility a lesson can be completed outside, all the better.”

     Sadly, Sacred Heart will not be able to host its annual Christmas concert this year. Instead, they are working on a special virtual project they hope to share within the next month.

     At the high school level, grades 9-12, Vocal Teacher Brett Kniess said having the students wearing masks for chorus has proved challenging.

     “Masks muffle the voice, and when students are spaced apart, it can be hard to hear, project, be confident, etc., especially in such as large space like the auditorium,” he explained. “This has been especially hard on the in-coming freshmen who might not have the confidence to sing on their own while sitting distanced from other students.”

     In addition, Kniess said returning students are also adjusting to a difficult learning curve.

     Chorus started out in the high school auditorium, but had to be relocated back to the choir room because the heat quit working.

     “We are spaced apart as best we can,” said Kniess.

     There are no in-person high school vocal concerts planned at this time. But, the band and choir did purchase equipment that would allow them to live-stream their concerts online.

     “Since chorus is interactive, group-focused dynamic, the biggest hurdle has been to interact with my students who are learning online, especially since everyone’s abilities with internet and technology are different, and everyone’s comfort levels with singing alone are wildly difficult, too,” explained Kniess. Those online students are reporting to the high school on Wednesdays (online learning days) to sing in-person together.

     “My hope is to have the online chorus students sing with the choir in December,” offered Kniess.

     HS Band Director Alex Garringer said much like the vocal program, the woodwind and brass players are wearing facemasks as well. The difference is their masks have an opening for the mouthpiece of the instrument. All wind instruments are covered. Those performing percussion wear normal facemasks. The band students are spaced 6 feet apart.

     Up until October, band was held outside. Now, they have relocated into the band room.

     “I am immensely proud of the resiliency of the students in our band,” praised Garringer. “They have come together and overcome any obstacles and did it with a positive attitude. Great things always come from our band program, and I do not expect that to change this year.”

     Garringer said he plans to live stream the band’s winter concert on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. via YouTube. An in-person audience will not be allowed.

     “When we began this fall, our main focus was to enjoy making music again,” noted Garringer of the closure of school since March. “This is a great outlet for students to express themselves and work together as a collective team to achieve goals. We pride ourselves at the Monticello band program in creating lifelong lovers of music and productive young adults who will have a positive impact on their community.”

     Ellen Walker, middle school (5-8) band director, said they are playing it by ear in terms of in-person concerts.

     Using the new band room in the new middle school, seats are spread out as far as space allows for social distancing. All students and Walker, too, wear masks. Special masks are worn by students with a slit to fit their instruments when playing.

     “Of course there have been some adjustments, but overall things are going well,” reported Walker.

     For those learning online, Walker uses Google Meet for weekly music lessons.

     “It’s also nice to have that time to talk and interact, as I don’t see them as often as students here at the school,” added Walker.

     Those students also use a program called “SmartMusic” to record themselves playing at home. From there, Walker can review the vodeo, hearing what they did well and what they need to work on to improve their skills. SmartMusic is also used for online Wednesdays.


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