Music has always been important to Miguel Rodriguez, who plays the flute in the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra. It’s become a lifeline for the 17-year-old during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I couldn’t imagine how I would be dealing with this pandemic without that crutch of music,” the Larkin High School senior said. “It was very easy to take out my flute and play a few notes and feel how beautiful the music is,” he said.
Back in March he wasn’t sure what effect the situation would have on the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra. With the social distancing, limits on group sizes and mask usage requirements, he figured the spring season would be canceled.
So, it was a surprise when the symphony orchestra not only continued with classes but held a virtual spring concert.
“It reminded us of the sense of normalcy,” Rodriguez said. “It reminded us what the world was like before the pandemic.”
The young musicians also had a chance for a bit of normalcy this fall when they resumed in-person rehearsals in preparation for the first concert of the season. It will be live streamed via eyso.org on Nov. 15 from Elgin Community College’s Blizzard Theater.
While all the COVID-19 health and safety restrictions have led to many changes, “it’s super worth it. I couldn’t imagine what life is like without music,” Rodriguez said.
The youth orchestra was having a busy year before COVID-19 hit. Its longtime artistic director left in summer 2019, and Matthew Sheppard chosen to take his place.
“We got through that. I was looking forward to this upcoming regular season,” Executive Director Eric Larson said.
The group had just held its March concert when everything came to a standstill because of the pandemic. Members switched to remote learning and rehearsals, and the term “Zoomhearsal” was coined, Larson said.
The May concert was, was “reimagined.” Students recorded their performances at home, and volunteer Anthony Riani edited them together to create a unique concert experience, Larson said.
“I was so proud of that, but I also realized COVID is not going away,” he said.
The orchestra’s season follows the school year so Larson, Sheppard and other staff spent the summer figuring out how the 2020-21 season could be held during a pandemic. By following the rules laid out by local health departments and the CDC, they split things up, spread things out and gave it a shot, Sheppard said.
“We didn’t know what it would look like,” he said. “We knew we would have to be ready to go with a variety of options.”
They began in-person rehearsals in the fall at Elgin Community College.
“We now have 300-plus kids coming together Sundays at ECC, but everything is so different,” Larson said.
Parents can’t come into rehearsals. Volunteers take students’ temperatures and ask screening questions. Students rehearse in small groups, sit in chairs spaced six feet apart, wear masks, and follow other safety requirements, like sterilizing everything, he said.
In a room that normally held 100 people, they limited it to 33 so there was enough space, Sheppard said. Rehearsals held every Sunday start at noon and continue until 9 p.m. because they have to be spread throughout the day, Larson said.
“String players can wear normal masks but for wind and brass players, they can’t wear a normal mask and play,” Sheppard said. “The best practices suggested two really good mitigation strategies. Mask yourself using a specialty mask and use a bell cover that acts as a mask on the end of the instrument.”
A bell cover helps minimize the aerosol spread, he said. They weren’t readily available so parent volunteers found patterns and started sewing covers measured to fit each instrument, Sheppard said.
“It was truly amazing,” he said.
Wind musicians had the added challenge of adjusting to a new way of breathing while playing, Sheppard said, but all the students had to made adjustments. And while it’s been complicated and hard, it’s also been interesting and rewarding, he said.
“On the one hand, literally everything is different,” Sheppard said. “On the other hand, we are still a bunch of people coming together making music. So, it’s exactly the same.”
The concert is Sunday, Nov. 15. Performances are scheduled at 2, 4:30, and 7 p.m.
“We can’t have an audience, but we’re going to live stream it,” Larson said. Parents will drop off their students then can watch the live stream, he said. Everyone will be able to perform on the same stage, he said.
The Nov. 15 concert is free — they’ll do performances at 2, 4:30 and 7 p.m. — but “the expenses don’t go away,” Larson said. They’re hoping that people who view it might consider making a donation to help defray the expenses they’ve incurred.
Either way, Larson said they are just happy to be able to present live performances.
“If you think about it, this is one way or another a stressful time for most of us,” he said. “These students love performing music and being able to do that in a time like this is a fantastic benefit to them.”
Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.
The article can be read at the original website: https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/elgin-courier-news/ct-elgin-youth-symphony-covid-live-concert-st-1108-20201107-sx4re6dfvjg77adxwu252fjglu-story.html