Music lessons move back to in-person

Now that the Dana Hall School of Music is back to offering in-person music lessons for the 2021-2022 school year, there are new safety precautions that allow wind instruments and ensembles to practice. The music rooms have air purifiers and open windows, and students socially distance themselves from their teachers. The flute choir will practice with performance masks. Despite the changes, both students and teachers are glad to be back in person.

Individual music lessons for wind instruments at Dana Hall will not require instrument masks. Instead, students will sit ten feet away from their teacher and pull down their masks only when they are playing. Angela Longo, one of the flute teachers and director of the flute choir, said she is happy to see her students back in person. She was not able to see some of them for lessons on Zoom due to time differences. Ms. Longo said even though it is great to see her students, it is a lot of work to make in-person lessons safe. She said, “We have the windows open so it’s kind of loud, and talking through the mask all day long is really difficult, and we’re lowering our masks to play and putting them back up, so that gets a little bit tiring.”

Coco Zhang ‘22, a flute student and member of the flute choir, is excited to be able to have lessons again. She had to stop lessons completely because she was back home in China. In addition to the time difference, Coco said that she did not like music lessons over Zoom because you can’t play duets since the sound doesn’t carry. She does not see many drawbacks to having lessons back in person. She said, “for wind instruments, it’s a bit dangerous since when we’re playing in individual lessons we can’t have masks on, but I think we are keeping our distance and the music school has pretty good facilities. We’re also in the biggest classroom for flute choir so we stand pretty far apart. I think that’s helpful.”

Coco does feel like the safety precautions in place make lessons harder because they are inconvenient, especially for flute choir. She thinks the flute choir will need to get adjusted to playing with the performance masks and will need to practice more before performances. She also mentioned how the flute choir is big this year so it is a lot of people who need to adapt to this new way of playing. It is a big change for the flute choir to not be able to stand close together in a semi-circle or be able to see each other’s faces when playing.

This year the flute choir will have eight or nine members, one of the biggest groups in ten years. Since the performance masks are in such high demand, the music school was not able to find any. Rita Bell, a member of the dining hall staff, offered to make the masks for the flute choir. The mask has a hole cut for the mouth and then another layer of cloth covering that hole. One side of the mask is open for the instrument to align with the mouth hole. Due to the time it takes to make each individual mask, the masks were not ready by the flute choir’s first practice and the members were not able to play together. 

Ms. Longo did have a prototype of the performance mask and was able to demonstrate to the students what it would look like to play with it on. Ms. Longo said, “It’s a little difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s the only way right now that we can have a group and be able to play.” The flute can sometimes get stuck in the mask and it is harder for the flutist to make adjustments to their positioning if their mouth is not visible. Since the first practice, more mask prototypes were made for the flute choir members so they can now play together. They are still waiting for the final masks.

With this mask prototype, Ms. Longo was able to play a duet in one of her individual lessons for the first time since March 2020. Ms. Longo said this was exciting since duets over Zoom never worked. Since the flute choir could not play during their first practice, they instead went over the set up of the area that consists of spots marked off six feet apart, air purifiers and open windows.

In the August 25 Commissioners’ update from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the “Implementation of DESE Mask Requirement” stated: “Masks may also be removed indoors when necessary to participate in elective classes, such as the use of wind instruments in band. When traditional masks cannot be worn, districts should consider additional mitigations, such as the use of instrument masks (masks with a slit or hole cut for the mouthpiece) or bell covers, along with physical distancing or outdoor classes as feasible.” 

Photo credit: Ms. Michelle Kiehl

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