The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Teaching music has it's challenges too


September 9, 2020

Running the school year safely during the COVID pandemic has been challenging and required significant precautions be taken. One of the courses that faces the biggest challenges in meeting safely is music education. TJ Bond is the music teacher for Big Sandy Schools, and I sat down with him to discuss these challenges.

The problem arises in the strange fact that airborne illnesses spread more effectively through singing, and the playing of wind instruments than through ordinary talking. "Instruments push it 15 to 20 feet, but singing can go up to 60 feet," TJ explained. The regulations say that students can wear masks for singing. In addition, there are masks available for musical instruments. However, singing with masks is difficult. "We have a really wonderful problem at the school. We have a large band and choir for a school our size, and unfortunately, we can't have them all playing or singing at the same time indoors."

Instead of spreading kids out into the unreasonably large spaces necessary for singing and playing instruments to ensure safety from exposure, TJ will be working to teach music in smaller group settings. For the older students, he will be focusing on chamber music this year. Chamber music refers to solos and ensembles.

With the older students, the solo and ensemble approach typically starts towards the end of the year. This means that most of the students are already familiar with the smaller class size approach and are comfortable with the changes. It also means that the students are able to choose their own music and experiment. TJ cited several students who are actually changing instruments altogether for the ensemble classes.

This doesn't alleviate the problem altogether, as TJ teaches music to all of the grades in both schools. This means he isn't able to divide students into smaller class sizes simply because he doesn't have any additional time in his already packed schedule. The school is working to solve the problem for the large choir classes by spreading students further apart in lessons. This is a particular challenge as the school's choir has grown to around 40 students.

"Luckily, the elementary school has smaller class sizes, particularly for the grades that use instruments (4th, 5th, and 6th grades). We are able to still use instruments and recorders with them." Another challenge has arisen in regard to the facility for music classes. The music room in the elementary school is carpeted. Carpets are not easily disinfected, which means that music classes have had to move to other spaces in the building. For 4th through 6th grade, music education is taking place in the classrooms themselves. For the younger students, all music education is taking place in the library, which has been reorganized to accommodate the lessons.

Concerts will be different this year as well. Instead of performing before live audiences in the high school auditorium, they will be live streamed on the Facebook page during the school day. The concerts will also be smaller. Instead of one large event, the shows will be divided into Kindergarten through 3rd grade, 4th through 6th grade, and the high school. For those without Facebook access, the school will be making DVDs available. For the Christmas concert, they will be encouraging only those who need a DVD to ask for one so they can gauge demand. Students will have access to footage afterward through Google classroom. The primary reason for this change is the desire to give every parent the opportunity to see their kids perform. Live performances would limit the audience size to a degree that it would likely be necessary to turn some away.

The planning and preparation for the unusual music year has been the product of collaborating with schools in the area through the summer, trying to figure out how to follow the CDC and Health Department regulations, while still teaching music. This is difficult when dealing with an airborne illness and teaching a subject that tends to spread air around a room as a part of doing the classwork.


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