Composers versus Covid-19

If you spend any time walking around campus, chances are you’ve heard the drumline and front ensembles practicing under the big white tent across from the Bryan Fine Arts Building. The marching band’s season was postponed with the football team’s, but many of the band’s members are music majors; they cannot afford to go months without practicing. 

“The drumline is the only entity that’s associated with the marching band right now that is actually still practicing and performing,” Dr. Jeffrey Miller, director of bands, explained. 

The drumline is the group of percussionists who march wearing a drum; they do not blow into their instruments, so they limit the amount of aerosols produced when they practice with a mask on. 

Unfortunately, the majority of band instruments involve air flow, which is clearly a risk of COVID-19.  Fortunately for music students, Tech has made accommodations to allow them to rehearse safely through the use of performance masks and bell covers. The performance masks greatly decrease the amount of touching one’s face. Instead of lowering a mask to play, positioning the instrument, and repositioning the mask at any point while playing.

“The performance masks have, “a slit in the mask…that are built sort of off-center from the mouth…it keeps everything covered as much as possible,” Miller stated.

Bell covers are also implemented. To prevent any traces of COVID-19 from spreading, they are stretched over the opening, or “bell,” of the instrument. Miller explained how this affected the quality of sound.


Saxophonist Abigail Littrel demonstrates a performance mask and bell cover.

“Very minimally, at least in my experience so far. A lot of it has to do with the fit of the cover over the instrument’s bell,” he said. He went on to explain that – with the ideal material – the tighter the fit, the less disruption in sound. 

Tech’s music students are now equipped with performance masks and bell covers, but finding a practice space to rehearse can be challenging. Even while using aerosolization protection, musicians are spaced six feet apart, and can only practice for 30 minutes at a time, followed by an aeration period of at least ten minutes. 

This time restriction makes practicing under the big white tent more appealing, but practicing outdoors will not always be an option. Miller commented that once the weather turns cold and rainy they will have to go inside.  

“Bryan Fine Arts only has so many large spaces,” Miller said.  

This makes it very difficult to organize a rehearsal for large ensembles. To combat this, the musicians are given their pieces to work on individually, and those involved in marching band meet in small groups throughout the week. 

Students are assigned to one of six groups that rotate weekly. In the meantime, students have access to the practice rooms in the Bryan Fine Arts building, upon reservation. 

Students are to sign up for a room 24 hours ahead of time, and are then granted an hour of practice time. After their hour, the room is aerated for 60 minutes before the next musician is allowed in. 

What can be expected of the music program this year? The wind ensemble has decided not to perform during the fall semester; the drumline is scheduled to perform at Tech’s Preview Day; the orchestra has considered putting on a concert in Centennial Plaza. While COVID-19 is attacking many things, it is clear that music will not be defeated.