Musicians Begin on a High Note

Although restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic have posed an unprecedented challenge for the school’s music education, music teachers and students are prepared to keep music alive.

Over the summer, Mr. Fabio Witkowski, head of the Visual and Performing Arts Department, collaborated with the school’s COVID-19 Safety Committee to develop a music curriculum that adheres to social-distancing guidelines. “Nowhere in the world have we experienced this before, in our lifetimes, or any time in history,” Mr. Witkowski explained. “So, there is no guidebook, there is no plan, there is no manual that we can read from like ‘Hmm, how do we operate a music program within a pandemic?’”

Despite all the challenges, music students are finding ways to connect with teachers through private lessons over Zoom. Piano, percussion, and bass students can reserve one 45-minute slot to practice in reopened music rooms each day. Students of more portable instruments, such as the violin and the cello, practice in their dorms. As the school year progresses, Mr. Witkowski hopes to open practice rooms to all music students on a need-by-need basis.

On-campus members of the Hotchkiss Orchestra have been attending in-person, socially distanced classes in Elfers Hall. Special adjustments have been made for woodwind and brass players, who wear masks with holes. Additionally, their instruments have special covers to ensure that no wind escapes. Meanwhile, remote learners record themselves playing their parts along with a livestream of the on-campus orchestra. Angela Choi ’21 said, “One difference I have noticed is our ability to blend as an ensemble. For certain passages, sections should try to sound like one giant instrument rather than individual pockets of sound, but the necessary social-distancing protocols make that difficult. Merely connected by Zoom and a live stream of rehearsal, I sense that remote learners face a severe disconnect and inability to participate.”

Mr. Witkowski’s main priority for the second semester is to bring back live music performances. He said, “My goal is to continue doing all the amazing, unique, totally awesome things that our music department’s famous for: bringing the best artists to campus, bringing our students to play all over the world – and as soon as we can do that, I’ll be the first one telling us to go do it.”

On a positive note, Mr. Witkowski lent some encouraging words to the community: “We could compare our situation to much greater challenges such as World War II and World War I. In those times, we see musical or artistic production thrive even more. We go to the arts as an outlet. We produce amazing things. So, I hope we’ll use history as a guidance to really strengthen our resilience and stay together, keep making music like this, and then once we can, enjoy glorious music together as we did before.”

Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity