Western Michigan University’s School of Music and Department of Dance have elected to take some lessons outdoors this fall semester in response to COVID-19 regulations.
From Monday to Friday, choir, band and dance classes take turns to rehearse outside on campus in different areas.
One choir class can be seen 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the amphitheater, another class practices around the same time under the parking ramp by Miller Auditorium.
The band students, rehearsing in groups of eight to twenty students, have more challenges as they battle with the wind to clip their music to portable stands, play through masks and fit their hands in and out of instrument bags by Miller Fountain.
The marching band, however, practices in the student parking lot across from Lawson/Gable on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 5:40 p.m. and have only instrument bags and bell covers to work with.
The Director of the School of Music, Keith Kothman, cited a recent study from the University of Colorado as what pushed them to find an innovative way to protect the wellbeing of their students during highest risk activities, such as singing or playing wind instruments, while still providing high quality education for these students. The study focused mainly on aerosol transmission and the need for extra mitigation in regular rehearsal rooms and indoor playing spaces.
“We’ve had to set up a whole schedule that you can only be in a room for 30 minutes and then nobody can be in that room for 50 to 60 (minutes),” said Scott Boerma, the director of bands and professor of music at WMU. “So, it’s been a real nightmare of scheduling all that, partly because of that they also recommend playing outside. For the first week or so of the fall semester, these classes were studying pieces online while administration and professors tried to get permission to play in certain areas and waited for the personal protective equipment.”
Boerma said the classes found Miller Fountain to be loud and had to request for it to be turned off at certain times.
Both the choir and band students have been playing and singing through special masks and social distancing when together. Additionally, band students have to use bell covers and bags around their instruments with holes just big enough to fit their hands into.
“You know, it’s better to be making music than not, so we’ll deal with this,” Boerma said. “But now that the weather’s turning cold and rainy, we’re more and more inside. The problem with Michigan weather, of course.”
His sentiments seemed to be the theme among students and faculty in the WMU School of Music. Denzel Johnson, a junior clarinet player in the marching band, is one of those students.
“It’s a little bit of work but whatever it takes to play some music,” Johnson said.
Faculty and administration are still working on a plan for the coming semester.