Virtual Noise: Music During A Pandemic

Concerts and festivals have been postponed and even cancelled due to COVID-19. Decatur musicians have resorted to a variety of methods to continue practicing their art.

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Each section of the marching band is spread across campus for rehearsal in order to maintain social distance. (photo ourtesy of Kylie Reynolds)

Stadiums and concert halls that once held loyal listeners have been emptied from fear of infection. Because COVID-19 is most easily spread among large gatherings, concerts and festivals have been postponed and even cancelled in accordance with health experts’ recommendations. Musicians have resorted to online performances to keep their fan bases entertained.

After nine months of quarantine, musicians have been finding creative ways to practice and perform together in an attempt to return to some semblance of “normal.” The chorus and marching band programs at Decatur High School are no exception.

In preparation for the return to in person school Dr. ES has restructured her classroom in order to maintain her student’s safety.

Tyler Ehrlich, the new band director at DHS, has been implementing CDC recommended safety measures into resuming practices for marching band. These include the use of masks and allowing students to practice in small groups. Ehrlich said, “We’ve basically divided the band up into two groups. So half the band rehearses on Tuesday, half the band rehearses on Wednesday.” 

“Out of our one-hundred and fifteen kids, we’re basically really trying to make groups as small as possible.”

Kylie Reynolds, a flutist for the DHS band, has been participating in socially distanced rehearsals. “I think they’re doing the best they can with the current situation. They’re taking every precaution to ensure it’s a safe experience when we practice in-person.”

Reynolds remarked on how the grouping of students could be changed. “For in-person rehearsals, it would be interesting to try dividing students into our small groups by the difficulty of music we want to play instead of by instrument.”

Both band and chorus associates expressed a longing to play music as a group whenever possible. Elise Eskew, the DHS chorus director says, “We took for granted the magical nature of being together.”

Each section of the marching band is spread out across the DHS campus for rehearsal in order to maintain social distance. (Photo courtesy of Kylie Reynolds)

Jonah Stadler, a senior in chorus echoes this sentiment: “I miss being able to see people in my sections and being able to make music in person. Chorus is such a different atmosphere online versus in person.” However, Stadler expressed overall satisfaction with the way chorus is being directed. “I think most of the problem is not being able to hear each other clearly, so I think if that problem would be fixed then it would be better. Other than that, I don’t think that it should be done differently.”

Eskew has been implementing specific measures to prepare the chorus room for communal practices when Decatur returns to in-person instruction. “I’m going to use the whole footprint [space] of the room, which is quite large. So, I can get about fifteen or twenty on the seated risers. I’m going to pop up standing risers on the other two walls.” Eskew continued, “We can have about thirty-five to forty people in the room safely if we social distance by about 6 or 7 feet.”

These circumstances raise the question of how professional musicians can survive through extended quarantine.

Douglas Altizer is a social studies teacher who has played in Decatur’s Rock And Roll Revue and in a few bands with his coworkers. “Unfortunately the way the record industry has moved over the last ten years, I think a lot of artists are making the bulk of their living by playing concerts. Not by making albums anymore.” Altizer said

Concerning what the general public can do to fight the pandemic, Tyler Ehrlich said, “I think following everything the CDC advises us to do. So washing your hands often, trying to stay six feet apart, trying to come in contact with as few people as you physically can, and wear a mask.”