Directors determined to keep students safe, playing Music programs have not been immune to changing mitigation during the COVID-19 pandemic, but music leaders are determined to follow new protocols as they emerge.

“Everything looks different,” Danville Area High School band director Tom Hiravi said. “It’s a brave, new world but we are managing to get through it. We want to make sure there is still a band for all of our students.”

That means things might have to change.

Last week, additional mitigation efforts for music and band programs after a third set of preliminary results from an aerosol study commissioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) and a coalition of more than 125 performing arts organizations.

The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) updated its guidance to all school districts in Pennsylvania based on the study. On the pandemic checklist music programs should follow include wearing masks, even when singing, bell covers for woodwind and brass instruments and limited rehearsal time.

“Many high school music programs have been able to continue their programs from earlier information released through this study,” said Dr. James Weaver, NFHS director of performing arts and sports and co-chair of the aerosol study. “We anticipate that this latest information will enable even more schools to feel confident in continuing these programs because the scientific data has become more refined through each stage of this process. If all the mitigation steps are followed, we believe students can continue to be engaged in performing arts activities this year.”

Everything is a challenge, Hiravi said.

While most Valley marching bands were able to perform shows in some capacity last fall, working toward spring shows remains a challenge. There are limits on the number of singers who can attend a chorus practice at one time.

Across PMEA’s District 8 — which covers nine counties, including all four Valley counties — educators at Valley schools have created Facebook pages for chorus, band and music education to keep in constant contact with each other, Hiravi said.

“We’ve been able to communicate and see what everyone is doing on a professional level,” Hiravi said. “It’s a challenge for everyone.”

The challenges are significant, but also present opportunities for growth, Hiravi said.

Without full groups of trumpet or flute players, teachers can often get more time with younger or less experienced musicians, who can often be overshadowed by section leaders.

“In some ways, it’s kind of cool. It gives us a chance to dig in with some of these students,” Hiravi said. “Some people might be exposed in their performance, that they might no be so when we have the full section. So we can work more with them, where we might not have noticed it before.”

Some of the PMEA’s highest-profile events, District, Regional and State band and chorus competitions are all being held virtually this year. In year’s past, dozens of students from schools across District 8 would attend auditions and events, with more than 100 performers taking part in Regional band or chorus events.

Those are on hold, replaced by virtual auditions and, hopefully, Hiravi said, an edited virtual Regional and State band and chorus performances this spring.

“Everybody must remain diligent to keep people safe,” he said. “We want to make sure we have music available to these kids.”

“During the pandemic, we’ve seen first hand how the arts have been crucial to the world,” noted Phil Stattel, PMEA President and music educator in the Penns Valley Area School District. “Music is an inherent part of our world and culture and it’s crucial that students continue to receive instruction in music. The experience in a music classroom, both in person and virtually, helps the social and emotional needs of students.”

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