Blair School of Music announces COVID-19 protocols for musicians

Changes involve masking and distancing requirements for large ensembles, small ensembles and opera.

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Mattigan Kelly

The Blair School of Music, as photographed on Oct. 29, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly)

Jonathan Liu, Deputy News Editor

The Blair School of Music has adapted its health and safety protocols for the Fall 2021 semester in accordance with university masking updates and suggestions from the International Coalition Performing Arts Aerosol Study.

In an Aug. 17 email sent to Blair students, Melissa Rose, senior associate dean for academic affairs, said that Blair will follow the university’s updated COVID-19 protocols, including an indoor masking mandate. However, she stated that there will be certain exceptions for performers, given the university’s 95 percent vaccination rate.

In the middle of large ensemble rehearsals, participants will no longer have to temporarily leave and air out their rehearsal spaces. In contrast to 2020-21 programming, large ensembles will rehearse and perform together in a full semester and will not be split into rotations. In addition, they are no longer limited to 50-minute rehearsals, which was another requirement during the 2020-21 school year. 

“Accumulation of aerosol clouds are no longer of chief concern because of high vaccination rates and masking,” Rose said in the email.

All large ensemble participants are required to wear slitted performance masks and space themselves at a reduced distance of three feet in rehearsals, as recommended in the aerosol study. In an Aug. 11 email to Blair students, Heidi Basgall Favorite, assistant to the dean, additionally specified that only members of the Vanderbilt community are allowed to attend Blair performances. 

Sophomore Rachel Stahel, a music education major, commented on large ensembles no longer having to split rehearsals into rotations, which were designed to allow more and smaller groups to have a chance to rehearse.

“Last year, I played for a total of seven weeks in the whole school year in my assigned rotations,” Stahel said. “Now, it will hopefully be a lot better—I can be in an orchestra or wind ensemble and have that [full-semester] experience.”

All woodwind players in large ensemble settings are also required to wear instrument bell covers or filters. On the other hand, those in small ensembles, like chamber music, only have to do so if six-foot distancing cannot be maintained. Furthermore, for chamber ensembles or sectionals in “large” spaces distanced at six feet, musicians can remove their masks if all students and faculty are vaccinated.

Opera staging additionally will be designed to keep all participants at a six-foot distance, and all singers must wear masks.

Sophomore Daniela Diano, another music education major, expressed optimism for the coming semester with Blair’s more flexible opera rehearsal protocols. 

“In the first semester [of last year], [vocalists] actually didn’t have any in-person rehearsals until the last two to three weeks,” Diano said. “This year, it’ll be nice to just not have to stop after 30 minutes [in those few rehearsals] and keep going—I’m just happy to be with everyone, no matter what.”