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Pitt State prepares for campus opening with special attention to the arts

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many industries and areas, but the music world and live performance have had specific challenges. Pitt State faculty and staff have come together to provide a safe experience for students and the arts. 

The department of music faced challenges when Pittsburg State campus shut down because a majority of the work musicians do is in-person or collaborative work. This work includes private lessons, instrument methods classes for music education majors, and large ensembles like marching band, university choir, the Southeast Kansas Symphony at Pittsburg State, and wind ensemble.  

Solutions to the challenges faced by modifying in-person delivery for musicians have already been solved partially this summer by utilizing the power of technology to create “virtual ensembles,” ensembles where participants record their individual parts and the individual parts are edited together in the form of a video or audio segment. One faculty member who has used this method and is formulating other strategies for the upcoming semester is Andrew Chybowski, professor of music and director of the wind ensemble. 

“As you might guess, we have two primary challenges facing us this fall: ensuring the health and safety of all students, faculty, and staff, while also continuing to provide a high-level musical experience as we prepare our students for successful careers after graduation,” Chybowski said. “For me, the safety of our students is always the bottom line and is the most important factor in every decision we make. We are following the ongoing research avidly and are putting together a plan based on recommendations supported by the data. Normally, during this part of the summer, we would be enjoying a brief respite before getting back into ‘school mode,’ but right now, the PSU music faculty… is currently working diligently to make sure everything we do this semester is safe and sustainable.” 

Chybowski cited specific research studies such as ones being done at the University of Colorado and the University of Maryland that are studying the effects of aerosol production and the spread of COVID-19 related to musical activities and he said that the study is finding that “simple measures have a dramatic effect on the buildup of aerosols.” 

“Of course, social distancing is a well-documented way to reduce risk but we have also learned that wind instruments can be played with specially designed slotted face masks and bell covers, both of which have demonstrated an even further reduction in aerosol production..,” Chybowski said. “Another huge factor is the size of the room and the performance of the heating, ventilation, and an air-conditioning(HVAC) system. The staff of the Bicknell Center have generously arranged for us to use the stage in the performance hall for our rehearsals. Not only is this a sufficiently cavernous space, but the ventilation system exceeds all recommended performance recommendations for maintaining a safe rehearsal environment.” 

According to Jonathan Eastman, technical director of the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, the building’s technical specifications are ready to house a variety of campus activities, including ensemble rehearsals, lectures, video recording of remote lectures, as well as providing assistance during move-in day for residence halls to further provide space to help keep social distance. 

“We are preparing several potential formats for sharing music with the community..,” Chybowski said. “(There’s) the possibility of a series of smaller performances throughout the community, which I think will be a lot of fun. I am also thinking about putting together some recording sessions for the ensemble, depending on circumstances. This will allow anyone to tune in to hear us from their homes and will provide our students with an experience they might not normally have: the process of putting together a professional recording.” 

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