Shrewsbury High School performing arts students go to great lengths to stay in tune

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By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Band students in rehearsal at Shrewsbury High School
Band students in rehearsal at Shrewsbury High School

Shrewsbury – Students in the C-Wing (performing arts corridor) at Shrewsbury High School have gone to great lengths to practice even though there haven’t been any opportunities to perform since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. 

 

Missing opportunities 

Their situation has been compounded by district and state guidelines established by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) that have prohibited performing. 

Brian Liporto, SHS band director, shared that in adhering to DESE’s guidance, “any of the activities and the performances and these experiences for the kids that we typically have, have gone by the wayside.”

“All of these activities that the students typically are involved in that allow us to reach out to the community and be involved and give us some visibility have been completely eliminated,” he added.

Even opportunities to perform in parades have been scuttled because the Memorial Day and Spirit of Shrewsbury events last year were cancelled and this coming Memorial Day activities are still uncertain.

 

Coping in class

Francis Crosby plays the oboe at Shrewsbury High School
Francis Crosby plays the oboe at Shrewsbury High School

It wasn’t until last December that the band was able to play indoors and rehearse but not without certain conditions. Students must be spaced ten feet apart; brass, trumpet and trombone players must have covers over their bells to contain as much of the aerosol as possible; woodwind players must have double layer fabric bags to cover their instruments; and musicians must wear special masks to accommodate their mouth pieces (at the expense of the performing arts department).

“With the way that we are spread out, each rehearsal and each class only has about 12 kids in it so we haven’t been able to get anything together and perform,” Liporto said.

To compensate, the students in band and orchestra are using software while practicing pieces of music in class and at home that provides feedback to help them understand what they are doing correctly and incorrectly.

 

Impact on learning 

When asked how these measures have impacted the music, Patrick O’Toole, district performing arts director, replied, “Not very well. It makes it very difficult.”

All the typical things that they do in rehearsal as a whole and coordinating the different groups of students from the different student cohorts so that they “can gel” has been difficult.  

Kate Mercadante, orchestra director, agrees. She said that the split cohorts have been extremely challenging. Her students are performing in class and don’t need any bags for their instruments. However, they must adhere to distancing protocols. 

Currently they are recording via video and audio that will be mixed for virtual performances.

O’Toole noted that he has done several virtual performances himself and it isn’t like performing in a group. Rather, the format is a collage of individual rehearsal sessions.

Choral director Michael Lapomardo said, “I’m a super spreader”. 

Or rather, it is his students who are when they sing, so they can only hum in class. His group of students are in the last phase of performers that can come back according to DESE’s guidelines.

O’Toole said that they are waiting for DESE to give them clearance but in the meantime, the department has purchased special singers’ masks so they are ready to go. 

Unfortunately, there will not be a spring musical this year but O’Toole hopes that there will be some virtual performances available later this spring.

 

 

 

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