As Pocantico middle school band students sat down in instrumental teacher Michael Murray’s hot seat, two studio lights shone on them and a camera was aimed in their direction. The music stand was decorated with holiday lights, and a clear plastic barrier separated them from the teacher.
“You record our faces too?” eighth-grader Bella Perkins asked as fellow flutist Galvin Navarro settled into the chair at center stage in the auditorium on December 9.
When Galvin hit a wrong note and stopped playing “Carol of the Bells”, Murray asked him to do exactly what he would do in a regular concert. “When we record, if you mess up, just keep going,” he said.
While students were a little tense and nervous playing in the spotlight, the end product was a streamed video with all of them pictured and playing in unison, thanks to new software and a lot of time and patience on Murray’s part. He merged the videos and recordings, including those by students studying remotely or quarantined at home.
The Covid-19 pandemic prompted the different format, health precautions and extra effort to stage a concert. The musicians gathered in small groups, used bell covers on their instruments to prevent spreading aerosols and stayed 12 feet from one another.
“We are grateful for the flexibility and opportunity to see the students and maintain the performance ensemble experiences despite the challenges to ensure safety for all,” said vocal/music teacher Sheila DePaola.
When weather permitted, DePaola held chorus group lessons and recorder instruction on the school’s front lawn or on the soccer fields.
The music room and band space are equipped with MERV-13 filtration systems and clearly marked with social distancing stickers. Both allow for students to wash their hands when they enter and before leaving the classrooms.
Tuba player Joshua Rivera did a recording for “Carol of the Bells” after doing a few run-throughs and focusing on more difficult areas. Mr. Murray told him not to worry if it was not perfect – there would be another opportunity to record the following week.
The process was “a little nerve-wracking,” the eighth-grader said, but it went well.