With the looming implications of COVID-19, it became clear over the summer that the GPS music department would function differently this semester. But longtime instrumental music director and music teacher Mary Baxter wasn’t afraid of a little challenge. In fact, she welcomed a big challenge: planning a previously canceled concert in only two weeks. “Considering the good weather, I asked my department head and our Middle and Upper School heads if we could have an outdoor concert. They sat down with me and helped think through the safest and best way to present one.”
The plan came together swiftly, and on a beautiful November Sunday afternoon, family members were invited to bring blankets (and their listening ears!) to campus for Concerts in the Courtyard. Nearly 100 students performed over the course of the afternoon production, which was broken into three separate mini-concerts to allow for social distancing among the performers and the audience members.
“My goal was to spend an afternoon sharing our music with families. Without a dress rehearsal or pre-concert warmup, we simply met on the lawn to perform together,” says Baxter. “We made the plans, and it turned out to be a wonderful afternoon for all! It was a stunning achievement for the musicians.”
In addition to physical distancing, our young musicians have made other adjustments this semester as they explore and hone their musical talents. “During a year where we must be careful about aerosols, we did not know if we would have a wind program at all,” Baxter says. Cue that GPS community spirit. “Dawn Hendrix, a seamstress and former trumpet-playing band member, whose husband, Lee Wright, teaches at GPS, worked with us to design special masks for wind players and special bags for the woodwinds. When we play inside the school, we are properly covered.”
Of course, the winds and woodwinds players aren’t the only ones whose instruments look a bit different this year. The brass players attach absorption pads to their instruments to catch condensation when they empty their valves. These adjustments provide challenges, but nothing our students can’t handle.
“The bags for the woodwinds cover the entire instrument with hand holes,” Baxter explains. “This is especially challenging for beginners, as they cannot see their hands or placement of their fingers. However, our beginners and advanced players alike have all learned how to play ‘blindly’ with hands covered inside the bags!”
Masks also require getting used to, but according to Baxter, these girls have mastered it. “I'm very satisfied with how our beginning winds have learned to play their instruments, despite needing to spend class time with the instrument covered by the instrument bags. We all are breathing with masks on, which feels quite different!”
Though some creative thinking and positive attitudes are required, this year has proven to be a special one for Baxter and her students. “Hearing the girls make music together again is the most satisfying part of this year, and I've been amazed and thrilled with how consistently the girls are behaving to keep the safest classrooms possible. They are doing their part to keep the distance so that we can stay healthy at school.”