Not even a global pandemic could slow down the Timothy Christian Schools music department.
Using the same dogged determination — and some extreme creativity — that allowed the entire Timothy campus to successfully execute in-person learning throughout the 2020-2021 pandemic-altered school year, the music department also was able to offer a robust in-person opportunity to students.
“We had an attitude of ‘we are thankful to be in person as much as possible’ and to be able to do that we had to do some things that were not easy,” Timothy Christian band director Doug Pelt explained. “But, it was way better than trying to do e-learning, which would have been virtually impossible because of time delays.”
The creativity aspect, given the COVID-19 restrictions and limitations, was what turned the tables in a positive direction for the entire music department.
“We did it with ponchos and bandanas, basically,” Pelt said with a laugh. The bandana goes underneath the instrument and the mask had a slot cut into it and you put the mouthpiece through there and into the mouth. With some other instruments, we covered them with a poncho and some had coverings at the end of them, such as the trumpet to prevent any aerosols from going out that way.”
Pelt said the summer of 2020 was used as a fact-finding mission for ideas that would allow band class to proceed in-person. “We worked very hard as a department to come up with ideas,” he said. “We were on online forums looking at people making patterns and cutting things up. I was at Walmart and Target many times looking at different stockings to put over flutes.”
"What we did is very unique. We did it and we stayed safe and were still able to make great music.”
He added the poncho solution ended up being a home run solution. “The easiest thing was doing the ponchos,” Pelt noted. “Instead of making an instrument-shaped piece of fabric, you wear the poncho and trap all the air in. There is that old axiom that the simplest solution is the best, and in this case it was a $2 poncho from Walmart.”
So, what was the most challenging instrument to outfit with COVID-19 safeguards? “The bassoon,” Pelt said. “We had to put the most work into a four-foot-long tube. My mom sewed a huge sock basically out of fabric and sewed it on the bassoon. I was very proud of that.”
On the choir side of things, Timothy Christian high school choir director Erin Lanenga also worked hard to make sure singing was a continuous staple throughout the school year.
“It’s been a journey, but it’s been wonderful,” she said.
Precautions for choir included being six feet apart during every rehearsal and staying in the auditorium seats socially distanced during the first semester.
“In the choir room and on stage we took a PVC pipe and measured six feet apart and put the chairs in their positions,” Lanenga said. “We made sure we were wiping down things.”
Special singing masks were created as well. “The singing masks gave the kids more space to breathe and they were more comfortable,” she added.
For choir, the majority of the group’s performances were either recorded and pushed out electronically or were live streamed. The choir did special recordings for the nearby Park Place senior community and the Christmas concert performed in conjunction with the band and orchestra was live streamed.
“The positive with the livestreaming and the recordings is they can be watched across the nation by different family members,” Lanenga said. “More people were able to see them.”
As restrictions progressively lifted, the music department was able to adjust. In early May the orchestra, band and choir performed in front of the parents of senior students, and the week before spring break outdoor live performances were held in front of audience members in their cars.
“We rented a stage and did six shows,” Lanenga said.
Pelt said the band also did plenty of recordings throughout the school year, whether in the band room or the auditorium, always following social distance guidelines.
“With the restrictions being relaxed, we have been able to invite some audience members to evening video sessions, which is a really nice change,” he said.
Pelt said this school year has put things into proper perspective. “We reminded the kids that we need to be super thankful for what we do have here, realizing other bands and music programs did not have the same advantage we did,” he said. “We have been doing this since August. Timothy has been way ahead of the curve. We told them to think about what a big gift this is and to have an attitude of gratefulness for that and be humble about it. The school and the community put a lot of effort and resources into making all this happen. We wanted to honor God with whatever sounds we were making. We stressed the way we use our time is God-honoring.”
Lanenga added: “We have to be thankful and be in the moment and see God’s blessing. We have learned a lot of things this year that we can keep. Despite a pandemic and this being weird, we adapted. These were truly blessings that could have been taken away from us at any time. Last spring, even though things were taken away from us that brought us joy, the Lord will never leave us. That has been the constant through all of this. It turns out that collaboratively making music together is really important to us, but it’s not everything. We still have the Lord to praise and worship in our own way even if we don’t have music.”
Lanenga said none of the successes the music department experienced would be possible without a forward-thinking school administration. “I am so thankful to work at a school that had such a great plan to make this all happen,” she said. “We learned a lot this year such as how to record and edit videos—tools we will now be able to use in the future. We had to be really creative, and I am very proud of the music team, the school, and our students.”
Pelt added: “I don’t know that a ton of other schools are doing what we did in this area, certainly not the size of our program. What we did is very unique. We did it and we stayed safe and were still able to make great music.”