Finding harmony amidst chaos


Molly Wetsch

Kathy Ferguson, LHS Choir teacher expressed how the pandemic has impacted the choir program.

By Alexis Miller, Lincoln High School

“A year ago today, I couldn’t ever envision this conversation taking place,” said Dan Carlson, LHS Band Director.

For all students, this year is a change. But, for music students, this year is catastrophic. Every day holds another set of unknowns and another round of cancellations. Disappointment lurks around the corner, sabotaging their hope for a normal year of band, choir and orchestra.

“The last six months have dragged on. It feels like I’ve been waiting months for my students to catch a break,” said Kathy Ferguson, LHS Choir Director.

When COVID-19 first made an appearance in the U.S., there was little information about the precautions and safety measures that were to be placed upon the schools. But now, after many months, rules and regulations have ensued, and musically inclined students are struggling. After numerous studies began and research was done, singing was projected as a ‘super-spreading activity.’

“Researchers say that the coronavirus can spread in respiratory aerosols, which may linger in the air for an hour or more, floating farther than the six feet commonly prescribed for social distancing,” said Richard Read, staff writer for the LA Times. “They say that choir members are particularly vulnerable to infection from airborne particles, because they exhale and inhale deeply to sing, often at close quarters in poorly ventilated rooms.”

Unfortunately, the information that was released has changed many aspects of the LHS Choir. From a new routine to an entirely new classroom, it has been an adjustment. Along with this, the National Anthem singers have been prohibited from any sporting events. Nationwide and statewide choral events have been canceled [specifically the National ACDA Convention and Junior Honor Choir] and concerts, trips and any large-group events have been postponed.

The most apparent loss among the choir is the lack of connection. Choir is meant to be a collective, group event, but when standing six feet apart, students feel desperately alone. They are challenged to blend, create and express with one another, but how can they be expected to do so under these conditions?

“There’s a concern about students feeling like they’re part of [the choir]” said Ferguson. “We can’t force them to create that connection with the modifications we’ve been given. I want kids to feel like they’re still involved in something big and great, even during this time.”

Despite the hardships and trials that this school year holds, many participants are thankful for the opportunity that this year presents. Although there are many unknowns, it is a blessing to be able to sing at the very least.

“We get to sing, we’re allowed to sing and we should be grateful,” said Ferguson. “A world without singing and choir would be devastating for our students.”

Choir presents many issues in relation to COVID-19, but the LHS band has struggled for months, trying to re-work their system to benefit the recent changes. Implementing bell covers, masks and COVID-19 screenings is only the beginning. Unfortunately, similar to choir, there have been continuous cancellations; concerts, competitions and committees have been put on hold indefinitely.

“It’s not what I was expecting, I’m disappointed, of course. This wasn’t how our senior year was supposed to go, especially for us drum majors,” said LHS Drum Major, Emily Krueger.

Izak Benitez-Lopez, 12 plays in the LHS Marching Band, which has made massive changes in the school year to allow students to continue to perform. (Molly Wetsch)

‘Disappointing’ has been a recurring theme for the 2020 school year. Students and staff alike, are struggling to cope with the changes. For seniors, there is no ‘next year,’ and there is no ‘do-over.’

“I am cautiously optimistic that a vaccine will develop and allow these kids some normalcy,” said Carlson. “We’re taking it one day at a time; that is the best I can offer our students.”

Among cancellations, there is a large concern about the marching band season. With a timeline almost impossible to beat, the band is struggling to complete their routine. Upcoming competitions and football half-time shows, have them racing. COVID-19 forced the June spat camp to be put on hold until July, effectively putting them a month behind schedule. On top of that, rehearsals have been minimalized, creating a spiraling season.

“We have only completed the opener, through the break for the drumline,” said Krueger. “Currently, we are trying to get it learned, but I am not sure if that will happen,”

It was an unfortunate beginning to a season. Thankfully, there is a positive perspective and outlook surrounding this team; students, staff and directors alike have optimism and encouragement on their side.

“I just pray that things get back to normal around here… the kids need it, honestly, I need it,” said Carlson.

Both band and choir directors expressed deep concern about the well-being of their students, but the orchestra has been troubled with the stability of their program. The changes that this year has brought for the music curriculum were too much for some students to handle, resulting in a loss of members.

“I lost 17 kids in the first month of school,” said LHS Orchestra Director, Mario Chiarello. “I can’t tell you whether they will come back or quit for good. This year isn’t going to be easy, and some students just didn’t understand that.”

Not only has the orchestra lost members, but they have lost crucial parts of their program. Often, orchestra is pegged as a place of involvement and excitement, but this year, it has been a struggle to create the connection between essential elements of the orchestra.

“Often orchestra is a place to blow off steam, but so much of that social aspect is gone,” said Chiarello. “You want them talking to each other to a point, and when they’re this far apart, it’s hard to do.”

Dr. Mario Chiarello, Orchestra director has been affected by the pandemic personally and professionally. (Alexis Miller)

Although the students are a main component of this program, we cannot ignore the challenges that directors are facing. There is an abundance of work and new changes on a daily basis. From seating charts to concert arrangements, it all begins to pile up.

“There’s always a plan, but if I am being honest, it changes from day to day,” said Chiarello.

Regardless of these trials, Chiarello still remains calm and collected. As always, his students remain his pride and joy; it is more than obvious that he values his job, and the patience that he displays throughout this chaotic time is inspiring. Amidst the trials and tribulations, each director has presented themselves in a poised manner; their students continue to be their priority and they strive to present a “normal” school-year.

“I can’t live without [my students],” said Chiarello. “They give me my energy. I need these kids; it’s scary to think about my retirement.”

The support that these groups provide one another is compelling. These programs have one aspect in common: each student involved feels the change, but together, they want to be the change. Their dedication to this school year, and overcoming these trials, is nothing less than incredible. And most inspiring of all, many of these students will say they owe this attitude to their music program.

This story was originally published on The Statesman on October 22, 2020.