HomeCampusMusic students play on through pandemic despite challenges

Music students play on through pandemic despite challenges

Published Oct. 8, 2021


Junior Sophia Cho, an avid french horn player, is in her third year of band class at Carmel High Schooland the vice president of the Music Student Council. For Cho, this year looks different from what she expected. At the beginning of every class, she checks to make sure that students’ chairs are six feet apart before retrieving her horn, fitting its opening with a piece of elastic called a bell cover. She then trades in her typical mask for one with a small flap for her mouthpiece, allowing her to play her instrument while still following California Department of Health guidelines. 

Finally, she is ready to perform. 

Music students at CHS are back on campus and ready to play, though not without restrictions, as the visual and performing arts department is facing unique safety guidelines in their pursuit of production. 

Following a year spent in distance learning, the musicians of CHS performed in-person last spring for a brief concert at the Forest Theater in downtown Carmel. The 2021-22 school year marks a return to semi-normalcy, as students are back to rehearsing in the music classroom, rather than in the school’s theater. 

But the transition back to the old music routine is far from finished. 

“There’s actually a lot of research supporting the fact that most instrument players wouldn’t need to wear a mask or have a bell cover, except in a few situations on a few instruments,” says CHS music teacher Brian Handley. “So I’m hoping that we move to that really soon.”

Handley expresses little worry about COVID-19 infections arising from the music room as it is equipped with a premium air filtration system that completely replaces all of the air within the room sixteen times per hour, roughly four times what is required to meet the standard of ‘COVID-19 safe.’

Music participation is up substantially this year with orchestra and beginning guitar enrollment on a steady incline. Other music classes offered, such as Digital Music, also taught by Handley, are flourishing in the in-person learning environment, which the instructor credits to a more intimate learning experience in which students can ask questions and receive feedback at any given time without the extra steps and anxieties added by Zoom.

Pep band musicians play during homecoming rally. (PHOTO BY EMMA BROWN)

Choir classes led by Tom Lehmkuhl, similar to band and orchestra, have also transitioned from last year’s rehearsal space in the theater to their old classroom. Students still are required to wear a mask, even while rehearsing music and warming up their voices. 

“We sit in chairs that are three feet apart,” says CHS junior and choir singer Piper Mahoney. “We have to wear our masks the whole time, even when we’re singing. It can be really hard to sing with a mask on.”

The music department looks forward to showcasing their skills in the upcoming weeks, as the band prepares for their performances at future football games. 

“We’ve been working on pep band stuff a lot in class,” says freshman Zack Rasmussen, who plays the flute and piano. “And I don’t think we will have to wear our masks for those performances.”

During upcoming performances at sports matches, student musicians will not be required to wear a mask, due to the outdoor setting, though they will be attempting to maintain some level of social distancing. 

“I am really looking forward to playing some of our pep band sets,” says junior Elias Osorio, who plays the baritone horn. “We have some super cool music, and I’m excited to play it. We weren’t able to perform it last year, so I’m super glad it is available to us now.”

Music classes hope to follow through with their plans of a trip to Anaheim for the Heritage Music Festival, which, before the pandemic, was a bi-annual occurrence for CHS students. At the moment, Lehmkuhl and Handley continue to observe the state of the nation before finalizing any plans, as the delta variant may disrupt their travel goals. 

Choir, band and orchestra will unite for their winter concert Dec. 17.

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