Pingry's in-house team of contact tracers—13 indefatigable faculty and staff—are working around the clock to keep the school community safe.
If you happen to pass by the Hostetter Arts Center or the Middle School atrium during the school day, chances are, you will witness music in the making, in the great outdoors.
COVID conditions have forced Pingry's Music Department to get creative. All Middle and Upper School vocal and instrumental classes—with the exception of strings—have been rehearsing outside since the start of the school year. Mr. McAnally's Upper School band fills the sidewalk entrance to the Arts Center; Dr. Moore's choruses practice outside the Art Gallery; and Mr. Winston's groups, including the Middle School chorus, Upper School Glee Club, and the Balladeers, occupy the space just outside the Middle School atrium (pictured above).
Chairs and stands remain outside, socially distanced, with sanitizing wipes nearby for students to clean after each use. Clips on the stands prevent sheets of music from flying away in the breeze. Often, before class, Mr. Winston has to wipe everything down to keep it dry.
Despite the chilly temperatures, students have embraced their new surroundings.
As Mr. Winston explains, Pingry's musical adaptations, as with all the school's COVID-related changes, were implemented with the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff in mind. (Singing, playing wind instruments, and acting with projected voices dispel respiratory droplets, and are considered unsafe indoors during the pandemic.) The changes also reflect health studies conducted last spring and summer by several music and theater organizations. Their research concluded that singing and playing outside, socially distanced, in masks, with everyone facing the same direction is the safest way to make pandemic-time music. Even outside, a maximum of 30 minutes of singing or playing is recommended before taking a five-minute break to allow the air to recycle itself.
While Mr. Winston is glad music-making can continue, the challenges are considerable: Masks, while safe, make it harder to sing and hear one another; collaboration and small-group projects are difficult with everyone facing the same direction; and acoustics are poor, to name a few. Add to these the possibility of a sudden shift to fully remote periods of school, like after the Thanksgiving Break. When this happens, students work on other projects, like recordings and videos that are shared with the school.
A particular disappointment for the students is not having any live performance opportunities this school year.
Despite these challenges, an outdoor venue has afforded some unique lessons. As Mr. Winston explains, "Being in an ensemble means listening and collaborating, but when you can't hear others as well, you also can't rely on them if you are unsure of your part. Students need to be more familiar with their part and confident because they need to trust themselves more." This is also true when students are learning remotely and singing on Zoom, he adds. "We need to be muted due to the lag time from person to person, so they are essentially singing by themselves. The positive is that, again, they can't rely on others and need to really know their own parts."
Additionally, because small-group work is so difficult, Mr. Winston, who generally encourages it, has had to alter his teaching approach accordingly. "The class becomes very teacher-led when you are working with the full ensemble. You need to be much more creative with how to do small-group, student-led work." His solution: Sending students off to the Middle School tent (pictured above) or the softball field in small, socially-distanced groups to work on their parts together.
Like all faculty who are simultaneously teaching in-person and remote students through Pingry Anywhere, he also has to ensure that students learning remotely feel fully included and engaged in the outdoor music sessions.
Take, for example, the preparations underway by the Balladeers to perform holiday recordings, which will replace their annual caroling at the Bridgewater Mall, as well as Pingry's celebrated all-school Winter Festival Concert, both of which had to be canceled. With the help of Balladeers presidents Kaley Taylor '21 and Rosemary Collins '21 and other senior leaders, Mr. Winston split the ensemble into groups. "Each group is learning one carol—they practice it together over Zoom, in order to connect with students who are home; work on their parts on their own; give each other feedback; and record their parts individually from home. Then, all those individual parts will be shared with one person in the group who will edit the audio to create the final recording." In this way, the work of the Balladeers demonstrates just how collaborative and creative a pandemic-time endeavor can be.
There are a lot of moving parts to navigate, for students and faculty alike. But all in all, Mr. Winston says, the students are doing well. "For the most part, they understand that we are doing the best we can in a challenging environment, and getting the chance to sing together at all is something they appreciate."
Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer, email@example.com