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Students rehearse in the Red Hawk Parking Garage. COURTESY MIKE PETERS

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Glenfield Middle School, which specializes in the arts, Montclair High’s School of Visual and Performing Arts, Montclair State University and Montclair Kimberley Academy are addressing arts instruction creatively during COVID. 

As with all educators, arts teachers planning instruction are mindful of social distancing, mask requirements, hygiene and air flow, but they are also learning about aerosol spray and droplet transmission, an issue for many kinds of performance where projection and exertion are needed. 

Right now at least two outdoor performances are scheduled: Montclair High’s School of Visual and Performing Arts will present its fall showcase in the MHS amphitheater, and Montclair Kimberley Academy will present a fall play in its own amphitheater, both in October. 

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Students perform, socially distances, at Montclair Kimberley Academy’s graduation this past summer. COURTESY MARIA GILMARTIN

MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER

Sound delays on Zoom make music ensembles tricky, and airborne transmission of the virus makes singing in person potentially dangerous. 

Catherine Kondreck, subject matter leader for the related arts department at Glenfield, said that band and orchestra rehearsal is happening now over Zoom, with all but one person muted. Students play to “a click track in their ear,” like Broadway or studio musicians, she said. Choral students are singing over Zoom, individually, due to the delay, with some breakout rooms of a few students and some call-and-response.

At Montclair Kimberley Academy upper school, students are already playing and singing in person every other day. At home, instruction means that students focus on music skills, listening skills, analysis, phrasing and composition.  Students attending in person learn the melody inside, then go outside to sing, 20 feet apart.

But some adjustment has been a good thing, said Maria Gilmartin, choral director and AP music theory teacher at MKA. Before COVID-19, Gilmartin always worked on traditional choral practices, like blend dynamics, in class. But now with individual work she can see which students need more help with things like key signatures.

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Montclair State University too is working in a hybrid fashion: The Red Hawk parking garage is its new rehearsal room. It is well-ventilated, and empty. 

Anthony Mazzochi, the Cali School of Music director, realized that nobody would be parking in the deck for a while and asked the administration for the space. The University Singers, MSU’s more competitive chorale with a group of about 65, has been rehearsing there for a month.

For the singers, MSU uses special masks called “singers’ resonance masks,” masks that have disposable biofilters in them, extending out from the face and giving more room to the nose and mouth.

One of the bands, and the chamber orchestra of 35, also rehearse there. 

Audiences will likely not be in person, as the MSU performances will be livestreamed or prerecorded. 

Mazzochi, who helped write an Arts Ed NJ Taskforce report giving specific recommendations for arts instruction in schools, knows that aerosolization is an issue for both singers and wind players.

“I hoped [MSU] could be a model,” he said. “When it comes to creating music together, whether in orchestra or a chamber group, there’s only one way to do it — together. It’s a very powerful thing.”

STUDIES AND AEROSOL

Science supports the music teachers’ caution. The International Coalition of Performing Arts Aerosol Study Round 2, conducted in August by the National Federation of State High School Associations, along with the Collegiate College Band Associations and Universities, tested aerosolization of instruments, singing, acting and dancing over the course of several weeks. 

They concluded that performing arts activities produce aerosol that is “less than coughing but more than talking … The median particle size range for singing is 1.3 microns, and clarinet is 0.9 micron as general examples of particle sizing for this study. The coronavirus has been measured at 0.1 micron.”

Arts Ed NJ’s “September Ready Taskforce for Arts Education” concludes that students must receive the training mandated by the New Jersey State Learning Standards, which were just updated for the visual and performing arts this past June.

The task force, convened in May, includes the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Montclair State University and Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, among others.

“The arts programs must have the same level of academic rigor and educational validity as any other core subject such as language arts literacy or math,” they write.

LIVE ONSTAGE

Theater and dance students face some of the same issues that musicians do. 

For 11-year-old Julia Atkins at Glenfield Middle School, acting classes so far have been mostly acting games. She is also readying her audition, at home,  for the musical “Edges.” She hopes that the production can be outside when she returns to in-person school.

Montclair High’s School of Visual and Performing Arts (SVPA) got the OK to do their autumn showcase, titled “Showcase in the Park,” in the MHS amphitheater on Oct. 24 and 25. Like MSU, SVPA is not sure yet whether the audience will be live, or whether the show will be livestreamed. 

Sara Mosle, a parent co-liaison, said that some rehearsals will be on Zoom, and some will be at the amphitheater, in groups of two or three, all wearing masks. While Showcase usually includes big numbers, this year it will be all solos and duets, Mosle said. 

At MKA, Nicole Hoppe leads both theater and dance classes. She works to make theater games inclusive of both in-person and at-home students: If the game is to “pass a clap around the circle,” Hoppe splits the group into two teams, and makes sure everyone knows the order.

MKA will also present a play outdoors, “12 Incompetent Jurors,” a satire by Ian McWethy of “12 Angry Men,” in the MKA amphitheater Oct. 15-18. But unlike SVPA, a live audience will be in attendance for the MKA show. The audience will purchase tickets in family pods, and each pod will be separated by 6 feet from the next. Heat lamps will be put up for the audience. 

And onstage, the world is socially distanced, too: The play set in COVID times. 

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Dancers at Montclair Kimberley Academy rehearse on the football field. COURTESY DAVID FLOCCO

DANCE WITH THE TIMES

Glenfield is holding only virtual dance instruction right now. Instructors “are trained to be able to spot issues in a video of a student practicing a new technique at home, and can respond appropriately by demonstrating themselves,” Kondreck said. If in-person instruction returns as planned, she said, dancers will work in the large dance studio and auditorium. 

At MKA, the dance studio is now the football field.

“It’s an interesting new world,” Hoppe said. “We are lucky enough to have turf, which is better than grass. The girls bring their yoga masks to stretch. We are able to spread out as much as we want, and take our masks off.” Students at home watch on their devices.

Like Gilmartin, Hoppe sees some positive things in this strange new world.

“We usually end class with a five-minute meditation,” she said. “To be able to do that outside in fresh air, with sunlight beating on us, is nice.”

SOMETHING TO SEE

Visual arts instruction is the simplest thing to arrange for students, as the work is less collaborative to begin with and aerosol is not really an issue. Students at Glenfield Middle School picked up materials at school and work at home, where their classes consist of a demo, a history lesson, working time and a critique, just as they would have in the physical classroom, Kondreck said. 

Students at MKA, who work at home and in person, have a set of supplies for each location. When not physically in the sculpture studio, they will work on art history videos or topics in sculpture, said David Flocco, head of the upper school at MKA. Students will also learn how to document their sketches, and process photos and projects in a digital portfolio.

And the teachers find creative ways to adapt projects for home learning, Flocco said: “For example, instead of building working pinhole cameras they will make camera obscuras using simple materials (cardboard box, empty can and waxed paper) found at home.”