Arts
Yellowknife

Music class during Covid-19: grab your ukulele and we’ll begin


Music programs in Yellowknife schools will have a different groove this fall: singing is prohibited and wind instruments can’t be played due to Covid-19 concerns.

Schools are now tasked with adapting their curriculum to feature other instruments, while the NWT government recommends students do not share any equipment. 

“If students must share, all non-windblown instruments must be properly disinfected after each use,” the territorial government said in an email to Cabin Radio. 

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Schools across the country are in the same boat while experts continue to study how coronavirus may spread through windblown instruments and singing, and what that may mean for a classroom setting.

According to a Public Health Ontario report published on July 9 – which compiled different studies of the issue – it’s still not clear how long the virus can last, and spread, when people participate in these activities.

Elizabeth Brace, the principal of Yellowknife’s Mildred Hall School and its former music teacher, said her school plans to buy ukuleles for students as a replacement for wind instruments, with drums and xylophones also available. 

Mildred Hall students can expect more lessons in bucket drumming, using percussion and rhythm instruments, or time with “boomwhackers” that play different pitches.

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All instruments will be wiped down between uses, and classes will be scheduled carefully to avoid using the same equipment back-to-back. 

Music theory, history, and composition will also play a role in filling the gap, where students may focus more on how to create and understand music. They may also try spoken-word performances, which still have a rhythm component.

“We’re trying to be as creative as we can,” Brace said.

“We’re just hopeful that as more research is done and, as things lighten up, hopefully we won’t have to go all year without singing or playing instruments.”

Instrument ‘shifts’

At the city’s Sir John Franklin High School, part-time music teacher Susan Shantora expects her classes will remain partly online.

In the spring, students were allowed to bring their instruments home for the rest of the semester to practice and were given individual learning plans.

Shantora doesn’t know if the school will have enough instruments for each student to do the same this coming semester – not least because it’s not clear how many students plan to take music classes.

“We’re going to have to figure out if people are going to have to rent them, or if we’re going to have to go in shifts,” she said. 

“The idea is to have every child have their own instrument at home so they can do their work.”

When music classes went online in the spring, Shantora lost a lot of her students who participated in band and choir programs, as the social appeal of the program – playing music with other students – had gone. 

While video conferencing software like Zoom can support an average meeting or basic online lessons, the audio quality doesn’t yet adequately support musical collaboration.

“If the performance part of it is taken away, I’m not sure if everyone is going to sign up,” said Shantora.

“The biggest heartbreak was the fact that they couldn’t play together. Technology doesn’t exist for musicians to play together at the same time.

“We’re going to try our best to keep kids engaged and keep it exciting and current. Hopefully we’ll make it a positive experience for everybody.”

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