Music department hushes virus spread with masks, two-performer operas

Austin junior Annalee Fletcher shows how she and other clarinet players utilize masks and play their instruments at the same time. In addition to this custom mask, another face covering that is uncut is utilized when the performer is not playing. Photo courtesy of Annalee Fletcher.

By Carson Lewis | Assistant Digital Managing Editor

The music department sounds relatively the same as it did before the pandemic, but signs of the times can be seen where young performers and artists used to gather.

Group seating areas are plastered with signs prohibiting close gatherings, and many stairwells and hallways direct passersby with one-way only warnings. On a piece of paper taped to all rehearsal spaces and practice rooms is written “STRICT LIMIT OF 1 PERSON IN ANY PRACTICE OR SMALL ENSEMBLE ROOM AT A TIME. NO GATHERING OF CHAMBER ENSEMBLES OR GROUPS IN ANY REHEARSAL SPACE.”

What hasn’t changed is the chorus of students’ instruments on the second floor. Sounds from drums, flutes and tubas mix as the building is filled with the noise of improvement and the refinement of art.

However, even in those spaces, changes have been made. Practice rooms have been limited to one person only, and rooms are guarded by QR-codes that instruct students to wait at least 15 minutes before entering a room after the person before them has left.

Austin junior Annalee Fletcher, an instrumental education major, said the changes on campus due to COVID-19 prevention affected music students the hardest.

“We’re not in ensembles right now. We’re still meeting on Zoom, but we’re just discussing and talking about music,” Fletcher said. “We can’t really play together. We’re waiting it out to see how the infection rates are.”

Fletcher said she’s been lucky, as a clarinet player, because she has been able to have in-person lessons, one of only a few groups allowed to.

Other students like Rowlett graduate student Preston Hart find their usual activities impacted. When attending the music school for his undergraduate last year, Hart found his senior recital canceled and replaced with a opera performance in January which covered the necessary requirements.

This semester, just months after graduation, Hart said he will be performing an opera made for two performers.

“We usually do three [operas] per year, but we split it up this year. And now we’re doing five this whole year, but they’re smaller,” Hart said. “…It’s just me and my fellow graduate student, Emily Wood, who are in the whole opera.”

Coverings and mask wearing have become commonplace in the music department. Fletcher described how before playing, she had to cover her instrument in order to prevent the spread of aerosols through the air. In addition to this, she wears two masks before getting ready to play. The first lies against her face, and has a hole in the center for the mouthpiece of her instrument. The second is only in use when the instrument is not being played, and acts as a normal mask, over the first.

With the challenge that goes into the simple act of playing her instrument safely, Fletcher described having some frustration over students she’s seen on campus not following the university’s guidelines for face coverings.

“It’s really really frustrating walking across campus and seeing people… not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I’m hearing of parties happening. People are just not doing what they’re supposed to do, at the one time when we really need [them] to,” Fletcher said. “It’s honestly destroying my career field.”

Hart said some of his friends were more sympathetic to those who demonstrated a more casual approach to the new regulations, wanting them to comply, but understanding that many people have been fed up with not being able to go back to the pre-virus normal.

However, he ended his statement with a laugh, saying “That being said, we’re not the ones partying on the weekends.”