Editor’s Note: This story was written by Grace Chalmers.
The band program at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota has adapted to new struggles arising from COVID-19 safety regulations.
When the Saint Mary’s campus in Winona was closed in March of 2020 due to COVID-19, Janet Heukeshoven, professor of music, was determined to discover a way to allow students to create music once they could safely come together again.
“It was tragic,” she said. “Looking back, I went into a state of depression and denial. How could this happen?”
Nicole Weninger is a senior at Saint Mary’s. She has played the alto saxophone for 12 years, including four years in the band at Saint Mary’s. She had conflicting feelings about being sent home in March of 2020.
“I knew that it wasn’t my last concert, because I was a junior last year, so I wasn’t overly disappointed,” said Weninger. “At the same time, I was a little disappointed because a lot of what we do in rehearsal is practice so we can be ready to perform in front of an audience, and so, when you spend all of those hours practicing and we then don’t get to perform in front of an audience, it feels almost like we got gypped of our purpose.”
Throughout the summer of 2020, Heukeshoven worked with a group of other music professors and directors throughout Minnesota to review COVID-19 studies across the world. The group learned how the virus could be spread through playing a band instrument and how to safely combat the dangers. She said the studies looked into how much aerosol was emitted from various instruments, including from the bell of a trumpet or the end of a flute.
“People started inventing things like all of our bell covers, and our players’ masks,” said Heukeshoven.
The bell covers were designed to eliminate aerosol released from instruments. Heukeshoven handmade the players’ masks and bell covers for all of the band students using shirt fabric. She said it was a combined effort of Patrick O’Shea, professor of music, and Anastasia Goodwin, from the costume shop, to collect enough fabric and sew the specialized masks for students.
Heukeshoven said that the combination of having “the barrier on the bell,” the players’ masks with “just as little space as possible,” and playing outdoors when possible are the best way to handle the safety regulations. She also began to schedule practices with smaller groups of players to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. For Heukeshoven and the band members, any type of rehearsal is better than no rehearsal.
“It feels so good to play in person, after it being taken away from us,” Heukeshoven said. “It was just hard.”
Sommer Moan is a freshman who plays the baritone saxophone, and it is her first year in the Saint Mary’s band. She said when she joined the band, she had a lot of uncertainty about how the band would be able to practice and perform together. She’s thankful for the strategies that Heukeshoven has implemented both to keep the band safe and able to play together.
“I appreciate what she’s done,” said Moan. “We social distance and we’re able to still play as a full band.”
She enjoyed playing outdoors with the band because they could play longer and without being fully masked.
“The only issue was that, because we could be fully six feet apart, you couldn’t hear each other as well,” she said.
Jillian Foss is a freshman who plays the bass clarinet in the band. She is pleased that the Saint Mary’s band is still able to practice and perform together.
“I was very shocked that she could include masks while playing,” said Foss. “I really didn’t think band would happen, so I’m very impressed by that.”
She is content with the many strategies Heukeshoven has implemented, including having outdoor practices. While she said that bugs and unpredictable weather were drawbacks of playing outside, she enjoyed the experience nonetheless.
With the positive reaction of playing outdoors, Heukeshoven has scheduled an outdoor band concert for Saturday, May 1, at noon in the Plaza on the Saint Mary’s campus in Winona. She wants all students to remember the importance of music in hard times, and how performing for others is good for both the players and their audience.
“Just keep playing,” said Heukeshoven. “Keep the music in your life. That’s what it’s really all about.”