Gaither Performing Arts Affected by COVID

Cyrus Jeske Chamber and Symphonic Orchestra’s 11th grade double bassist.

Cyrus Jeske Chamber and Symphonic Orchestra’s 11th grade double bassist.

Emilee Namphengsone, Staff Writer

In an ensemble, whether it involves string players or vocalists, musicians require a lot in order to execute their performance. But what do they do when faced with mandatory masks and social distancing rules?

Music in Masks

This year, directors and students tackle the problem with an open mind.

“We feel great about it,” said band Director Luis Alvarez. “We have chairs and stands apart six feet, twelve feet front to back. All the chairs are facing forward. Students have to sanitize their hands before coming in. We have sanitation buckets; it seems like every 10 feet. It can’t be much safer than what we already have instilled.”

The band program has provided their students with musicians’ masks. These masks allow musicians to play their instrument while keeping air from escaping the sides of the mouth. They are also using bell covers and sanitize materials and chairs before leaving the room.

Chorus also is being provided singers’ masks—masks designed for singers to better project their voice through the fabric.

Gaither’s Chorus Director, Debra Cleveland, believes that, although difficult, new procedures allow for her students to learn something new.

“It’s been a challenge, but in some ways, we’re learning more because students have to really enunciate their words to get them through the mask, which is always good for choirs. They also have to kind of make a bigger sound with their voice to fill up that space between other singers,” said Cleveland.

Carson Stuart, 12th grade Concert Chorus and Showcase vocalist.

Space Affects Sound

Other than the obstacles that masks present, Gaither’s orchestra ensemble also faces another opponent—social distancing.

Orchestra Director Jacob Heglund is making daily adjustments for his ensembles.

“Social distancing is a huge part of adjusting to COVID procedures,” said Heglund. “It’s not required, but we feel that it’s necessary as a step to it. We heard a difference in sound happen in our Chamber class where we tried to have things as perfectly socially distanced as we can. It really affects the sound in ways we couldn’t have anticipated.”

Due to restricted distancing rules, All State, All County and Solo and Ensemble for all programs have been cancelled. The fall marching band show has also been cancelled.

Without being close to one another, musicians suffer from open space that doesn’t allow for the musicians to adjust to their peers, thus, affecting the overall ensemble.

Laptop Stand

E-learners face different challenges—being involved.

Senior Kessie Harbor, enrolled in Gaither’s Chamber Ensemble, makes the best of her situation despite being a virtual learner.

“While being an e-learning student, I was really worried about not being able to be apart of orchestra, considering it isn’t the easiest thing to do online,” said Harbor. “But I feel like Mr. Heglund has handled everything very well. I’m allowed to come to after school rehearsals and it makes me feel like I’m not missing anything.”

Directors are trying their best to make sure their virtual learners are involved in lessons and rehearsals. Currently, all performing arts teachers are teaching hybrid classes.

“I wish we had a little bit more technology. Sometimes online learners can’t see the white board, or I’ll have to have a student hold up the computer or phone. I wish we had more technology to make that process easier. But overall, we’re pretty blessed to have what we have. I tend to not complain and focus on what we do have,” said Alvarez.

Cancelled Events

Students look forward to a lot of music events throughout their high school career as members of Gaither’s Music Conservatory.

Events like Senior Night for marching band, yearly orientations and even concerts have been cancelled or restricted due to new procedures.

Band Captain Hayley Greenlaw expresses her distaste for a restricted Senior Night in regard to her and her fellow bandmates.

“[We] don’t even know if we can take our masks off for photos. I don’t understand why I wouldn’t be able to go off to the side and take photos with my family. It puts a lot of resentment towards the program because I worked so hard for three years for this night, a final show, and we have all of these restrictions compared to other programs,” said Greenlaw.

Many questions have still not been answered and despite the programs’ mindsets, there are many gray areas.

Expecting Nothing and Celebrating Everything

Directors are trying to provide their students an outlet through music after months of no school. They expressed not only their love for music, but the love their students share with them.

“Realize that this is just a blip in time,” said Cleveland. “Instead of being disappointed in what we can’t do, expect nothing and celebrate everything.”

“Let’s be thermostats instead of thermometers. Let’s not let the outside environment determine whether we’re hot or cold. We determine the environment. We decide the atmosphere,” said Alvarez.

“Just keep playing,” said Heglund. “We joined music to have that safe space. Play for fun, play for you. Reflect on your why—why we do this, why you do this. If we really boil it down to why we make music, it’s to have fun and make memories with each other and no COVID is stopping that.”

Currently, Band and Orchestra are planning to perform on November 19th for their outdoor Veteran’s Concert at the Carrollwood Village Park for parents and the community. Chorus is also planning to perform their first no-audience, virtual concert on October 15th with socially distanced, masked singers.