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Harvard Musicians Report Challenges with Covid-19 Restrictions

Musicians at Harvard said they are encountering new challenges complying with the University's Covid-19 guidelines.
Musicians at Harvard said they are encountering new challenges complying with the University's Covid-19 guidelines. By Truong L. Nguyen
By Felicia He, Crimson Staff Writer

Returning to in-person classes, rehearsals, and performances this month following a long hiatus, musicians at Harvard said they are encountering new challenges complying with the University’s Covid-19 guidelines.

The Music Department is following Harvard’s official guidelines for distancing and masking indoors, according to an email from Music Department Chair and Professor of African American Music Ingrid T. Monson.

Andrew G. Clark, the director of choral activities at the College who teaches a performance-based cantata course, said he and his students have been using an adapted singing mask that optimizes sound and prevents inhalation of the mask during vigorous singing.

“We’ve been providing them for the students, and we’re getting support from the Office for the Arts and the Music department,” he said. “The College has been really quite supportive in providing what we need across the board.”

Other faculty members have encountered difficulties, however, with finding masks and other personal protective equipment for their students. Mark E. Olson, the director of the Harvard Band and Wind Ensemble, said slotted masks and bell covers are tricky to obtain for woodwind and brass players.

“You simply need to have a mask that is as close to your face as possible but allows you to be able to insert the mouthpiece,” Olson said.

“We’re still researching and getting better masks that allow us to perform and keep us safe,” he added. “They’re out there, but there’s a high demand for masks and low supply, because all the bands in the area and colleges, everybody’s ordering masks.”

Ruben A. Fonseca ’24, a percussionist in the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra, said HRO has not yet been able to rehearse as a full group due to a lack of bell covers despite the fact that their first performance is only eight rehearsals away.

“We’re a strong enough group that it should be fine,” Fonesca said. “But it just sucks that we haven’t been able to meet as a full group because of those restrictions.”

Bell covers provide an extra level of protection against Covid-19 but can compromise the quality of an instrument’s sound. A euphonium player in the wind ensemble had intonation problems that were only solved when he took off his bell cover, Olsen said.

“For instance, a euphonium player – we discovered this last week – as he started going in the upper register notes, the intubation pitch was off,” he said. “And I said, ‘Pull the bell cover off and let’s play,’ and they didn’t get any problems with intonation.”

Gabriel U. Ortiz ’24, a trumpet player in HRO, said his Harvard bell cover has yet to arrive, but he has used the protective equipment in the past.

“I think it dulls the sound,” he said. “I feel like my sound doesn’t shimmer, it kind of dulls the edge of the brass sound.”

Despite the new challenges, Clark said extra precautions are worth it compared to the struggle of making music online.

“Taking any precautions to make it possible to sing together is worth it, because making music, especially choral music and vocal music on Zoom, can really just be a dehumanizing and disappointing experience,” he said. “I think we want to do everything we can to do our part to never have to go back to Zoom choir.”

—Staff writer Felicia He can be reached at felicia.he@thecrimson.com.

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