University of New Mexico bands haven’t practiced in person since August but are set to resume face-to-face rehearsals after Labor Day with the assistance of new, custom-made masks and socially distanced protocols.
Associate professor Chad Simons, who is the associate director of bands and director of UNM Athletic Bands, said that rehearsals will be limited to 30 minutes and band members will be enlisting a number of strategies to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
“Groups of between eight to 15 members (will be) outside, under tents, socially distanced (six to nine feet depending on the instrument) with each member wearing a mask and bell covers fitted to all instruments,” Simons said of the new restrictions on rehearsals.
According to Simons, these precautions were adopted following an aerosol study conducted by scientists at Colorado State University and the University of Maryland funded by the College Band Directors National Association and other professional music organizations across the nation.
These plans (including the incorporation of specialized masks) have been approved by the UNM administration.
Gabriel Padilla, a freshman majoring in music education, added, “Each player is required to wear a mask at all times and have a cover on the bell, where the sound and condensation come out. There must be a ‘puppy pad’ or a towel under the brass player for brass players to drain the condensation from their instruments.”
Jenny Snedeker and Cameron Anderson, who received master’s degrees in music performance from UNM in May, have been creating masks since COVID-19 first hit New Mexico and recently specialized their design to accommodate the playing of a wind instrument. Prior to the pandemic, neither individual had any sewing experience.
“As musicians, the only thing we had left to do was perform our recitals, but all of those got canceled. So the rest of our semester got canceled,” Snedeker said. “We took that free time to make masks and sent them to family and friends around while we were finishing our degrees.”
According to Snedeker and Anderson, the masks were carefully crafted with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at the forefront and with the inspiration of Anderson’s mother’s past experience as manager in a fabric store.
Once the duo gradually gained confidence with their craftsmanship skills, they began planning prototypes for masks adapted for musicians, which have since been distributed to professors and peers in the music program. There are currently two separate designs: one specifically for flutes and one for all other wind instruments.
The masks are made with two layers of 100% cotton fabric and cover the nose while accommodating a miniature slit around the mouth to allow the instrument easy access. A flap is included that covers the slit when an instrument isn’t being played.
“We spent a long time working on the prototype and wanted them to be perfect for our band. We were perfectionists with them,” Snedeker said.
Having these masks will enable the band to play together or in an ensemble.
Both Anderson and Snedeker agreed that it is nearly impossible to replicate an ensemble setting in a virtual or solitary format.
“You can practice your technique and intonation, but the only way to gain ensemble skills is to be in an ensemble setting,” Snedeker said. “When online, you can sit there and get every note right in a piece, but you can't adjust the intonation or tempo on the fly.”
Anderson and Snedeker recalled that UNM closed down in March shortly after their preview performances done in preparation for the actual recital, which is considered a culminating event of the master’s degree process. Anderson said they feel as if they have been “hanging in anticipation” since then after having to put such a large part of their lives on hold for six months.
“Being able to communicate with administration to design something that will work for musicians and directors is so rewarding. We wanted to help everyone else continue their education and see it through,” Snedeker said.
In addition to the specialized band masks, Anderson and Snedeker hope to tailor facial coverings to singers, such as one that would prop out the cloth to create room around the mouth and facilitate jaw movement, and a bell cover to cover air flow within instruments.
Snedeker expressed appreciation for her education at UNM, which she said coached her openness to learning new skill sets.
“We had never used sewing machines or studied business before, and now we’re just doing it,” she said. “I realize the value of my education that has taught me how to research reliable sources and learn how to educate myself and learn how to be bad at something first so I can then be better.”
Anderson agreed, adding, “Don’t let anything stop you. You will pick things up real quick when you put your mind to it.”
Beatrice Nisoli is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli