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Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Performance Possibilities in an Ongoing Pandemic

We're definitely not where we were a year ago with the pandemic, but we also aren't back to where we were two years ago either! What protocols you follow and what mitigation strategies you need to consider for in person musical performances will obviously vary a lot depending on your local situation, and conditions could certainly change between now and whenever we put on our next show, but I've heard a lot of questions from music teachers struggling to figure out a good solution for their situation so today I'm sharing a few options to consider.

Whether any of these solutions are right for you and your situation will depend on a lot of different factors, but if you are in the position of having to figure out creative ways to put on an in-person musical performance while still needing to follow certain mitigation protocols, hopefully these ideas will at least help you get the ball rolling and figure out what will work for you!

I really think it's important, when we can do so safely, to try to find ways to allow our students to perform together live again. Virtual ensembles are great for certain situations, but there are certain things you definitely miss out on when you can't perform together! After going so long without having the opportunity to perform live, I am trying to find any way I can to give my students that experience.

1. alternative venue

One of the most obvious solutions if you're having a performance but need better ventilation or more space, is to hold the event outside. Besides the parking lot, field, or other outdoor space at the school, you could also consider local parks, or churches or other community buildings with larger parking lots or outdoor space. The most important things to think about if you're outdoors will be how to keep any sheet music from flying away in the wind, plans to deal with inclement weather, getting power for any sound systems etc, making sure the audience can hear the music, and transportation of people and equipment (especially if you're off campus). 

Of course there also may be alternative indoor venues that would work, especially since many of us are planning performances in the winter when performing outside just isn't practical! If the usual performance space is too small to allow adequate distancing, other rooms in the school, rooms at other schools in the district, or even other spaces in the community may work.

2. no (or limited) in person audience

Another way to have an indoor performance without crowding the space, if you don't have a big enough alternative venue, is to limit or eliminate the in person audience, and instead use zoom or another video call/ streaming platform to allow the audience to watch "live" from other rooms. In my building I'm planning to have all of the performers in the gym, with students watching from zoom in their homerooms (projected on the board by their homeroom teachers) and families watching from home. It's not the same when you can't see and hear the audience, but it's better than making a recording! The most important consideration with this scenario is making sure you have any necessary licensing to allow you to perform the music over zoom (here is a helpful guide on that). 

3. split up performances

This can be done a few ways: you can perform the same show multiple times for smaller audience groups, or split up the performers and have smaller groups perform at different shows- if you normally have the whole school in the audience, you could have a few grades at a time come and watch, or if you normally have the band and choir perform, you could have separate concerts for the band and chorus. The most difficult consideration with this scenario is scheduling- making sure you have enough time to fit all those performances in.

4. other mitigation options

Besides distancing, there are other ways to add layers of mitigation to make in-person performances safer. The most obvious one is masks and bell covers, but you can also make the performances shorter, increase ventilation by opening windows and doors, or bring in additional air filtration systems. The more we can do to mitigate risk, the more likely we are to be able to continue having musical performances safely.

5. alternative performance types

One more option for mitigating risk that's worth mentioning is to replace performances that have increased aerosol risk (singing, wind instrument playing, projecting) with other means of performing! Movement based performances, routines done to recorded music with cups/ scarves/ other props, percussion ensembles and orff ensembles, string instruments, and other non-aerosol producing options are great, and this may be an opportunity to explore alternatives that we can carry into future years.

6. other considerations

Beyond safety precautions, it's helpful to remember that we are easing back into this. We are not magically reset to pre-pandemic times. We shouldn't have the same full performance calendar, and we shouldn't expect the same level of performance refinement from our students. Fewer songs, easier repertoire, and more selective performances are all appropriate right now. It's also good to remember that there is benefit, both for the students and for the community, to having these performances again even if the level of difficulty or polish is not what it used to be! After all of the separation, these shared experiences are more important than ever, even if they don't look the same as they used to, and even pre-pandemic, the value of these performance opportunities is not in the polish of the performance but in the process of preparation and the opportunity to share and showcase their learning.

As I said in the beginning of this post, what solutions will work for you will depend entirely on your local situation. If you haven't seen it, you can catch up on the latest guidance from NFHS and NAfME from August 2021 at this link. I am certainly not a public health expert, so I cannot tell you what is safe or not safe for your area and your situation, but I hope these ideas are helpful if you're wanting to get your students performing live again but feeling stuck on how to make it happen. Have other ideas you've come up with that work for you? I'd love to hear them in the comments so everyone can benefit from hearing your ideas!

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