Performing Arts in the Bedford Schools ~ Music and Drama in the Time of Pandemic

October 23, 2020
The faculty gathered in 2017 — the entire Performing Arts Department!


Performing arts teachers in the Bedford schools are relying on energy, creativity, and technology to build a meaningful academic year despite debilitating virus-imposed restrictions.

And there’s another key ingredient: collegiality.

“The Performing Arts Department works really well together and enjoys collaboration. We are very supportive of one another regularly checking in and offering moral support,” said Nicole O’Toole, program director for kindergarten through high school.

“Reinventing what is music and theater education during a pandemic hasn’t been easy but together we are finding some solutions,” she said.

Overall, O’Toole said, “We are placing emphasis on building individual skills with our students this year.”

Singing exacerbates the spread of the virus. Yet, “We want to introduce younger students to the joys of vocal and instrumental performance within the limits imposed,” O’Toole said. At the elementary school level, singing is done away from school in a virtual format. “Part of music being online is to allow for the freedom of singing because it is such a large part of the elementary music classroom,” she explained.

There won’t be any vocal concerts, unfortunately. “Currently we are not having any large gatherings of outside people in our auditorium. This makes rehearsing as an ensemble very difficult if not impossible.” She added, “We hope to be able to produce some sort of digital concert in the spring.”

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently relaxed an earlier prohibition on playing wind and brass instruments indoors.

The memo reads: “When in-person school is occurring, wind and brass instruments may be used indoors or outdoors with 10 feet of distance between individuals. Masks, including instrument masks that have a slit for the instrument, and the use of bell covers are encouraged if possible. Spit valves should be emptied onto a disposable, absorbent pad rather than the floor so that contents can be contained.”

“Our beginning band program is currently outside for our hybrid students,” said O’Toole. “Before it gets too cold, we hope to be able to teach the students how to handle their wind instruments and produce basic sounds. Once it’s too cold to be outdoors we will be indoors and masked.”

The new guideline won’t be incorporated immediately. “Before we would be allowed to do this, Jim Felker (the other band teacher) and I need to create a plan to show just how it would be done. The principals at the schools would also need to update their plans for a change in practice like this,” O’Toole said.

She added, “I also have some ideas about masks, especially for flutists, to help keep their respiratory droplets to themselves. In my opinion, the musician masks that are out there are decent for brass players but not so good for woodwind players. Reeds will get broken trying to navigate a slit in a mask.”

Meanwhile, all students are playing bells – specifically, glockenspiel and orchestra bells — “so they can continue to learn the essential skills of note-reading and ensemble-playing,” she continued. Original plans called for specifics of wind instruments to be taught virtually through Zoom and video content.

O’Toole said another priority is “to inspire middle and high school students whose careers have been interrupted.” New technology will help. The department has purchased a variety of digital tools to help students study their music, O’Toole said.

“With some ensembles, we’re using software that will listen to a student play or sing their part and give feedback on the accuracy of their rhythm and pitch,” O’Toole explained. “Additionally, we have tools that will help the students to create recordings of themselves for teacher feedback and be creative with digital music arranging and composition.” The software, she said, “indicates the performer’s note and rhythm accuracy.”

O’Toole noted that the Drama Club has started working on a play scheduled to be performed in November. The author of the play has released an adapted Zoom version.

The department chair was specific about the solution to these challenges. “What would give the performing arts the most hope is a safe and thoroughly tested vaccine. As a community, we are doing our best to stay healthy by being masked, washing hands, and distancing. Hopefully, this gives the scientists the time they need to develop proper vaccines.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763
Click this link to learn more about The Bedford Citizen’s first community reporter.

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