Pandemic restrictions are making life tough on choir programs

The Dell Rapids high school choir performs a virtual Veterans Day concert from the Dells gymnasium.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused chaos in schools around the country when it comes to online learning, scheduling conflicts and staying protected while in school.

But perhaps no other activity is affected more by the pandemic and mask-wearing than the fine arts activity of choir.

Although the pandemic and masks may be muffling their voices, the restrictions haven’t stopped the gift of song at both Dell Rapids and St. Mary. The Dells public high school choir recently posted a performance on Facebook in honor of Veterans Day.

The high school traditionally hosts a Veterans Day concert at the school with speakers and performances by the band and choir. That event was canceled this year due to the pandemic, so the choir made the video as a tribute.

Although their first concert of the year was virtual, choir director Robert Michalscheck said he’s looking forward to in-person concerts scheduled for the middle school and high school on Dec. 7-8. Attendance policies for those two events will be determined at a later date, but just getting to a point where the choir can host a concert has been a challenge.

“It’s extremely difficult as a choir teacher when you’re trying to show them how to shape their mouths for vowels and for consonants,” Michalscheck said about wearing masks while singing. “It’s tough. It’s doable, but it’s also not a whole lot of fun.”

Michalscheck said the program has come a long way since March when the pandemic made its first wave through the area. The choir now rehearses in the gymnasium where students are six feet apart. At the beginning of the school, all rehearsals were in the choir room where spacing was difficult. Masks were mandatory at that time, but since moving to the gymnasium, masks are optional for students.

Michalscheck said the move to the gymnasium has made life easier and the collaborative effort with superintendent Summer Schultz, activities director Jeff Dvorak and principals Fran Ruesink and Drew Bunkers has been efficient. 

Just preparing for the 2020-21 school year caused some sleepless nights, Michalscheck said. He said he attended several online courses over the summer and researched as much as he could to make solid decisions so the the choir program could become a reality this school year.

“Our administration has been super supportive through this whole thing,” he said. “Any of the ideas I thought of, like getting air purifiers, facial coverings, and allowing me to use the high school gym. Anything like that, they were all for it.”

Although masks are optional at Dells public, they’re still mandatory for St. Mary choir students. They rehearse in the lunchroom at St. Mary. Director Joni Smith said each student is 6-9 feet apart, and agrees with Michalscheck that trying to teach choir with a group of face-covered singers is difficult.

“It is extremely hard because I can’t see all my kids,” she said. “It’s hard to hear them because they’re kind of muffled. It is a challenge, but it’s one they’ve accepted.”

The St. Mary choir first performed this year on senior night when the Cardinals played a home football game.

The St. Mary choir sings the National Anthem in masks on senior night when the Cardinals played De Smet on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020.

Michalscheck said high school numbers have stayed about the same as last year. However, the middle school has had a dip in members. Michalscheck said he attributes that to the way school ended last year having to go fully online, forcing parents to think about student’s class choices this year.

In his 12 years of teaching choir, Michalscheck said he never thought he’d be dealing with masked singers in choir.

“When you’re a choir teacher, your biggest fear is wondering if kids are going to continue with the program or dealing with when to schedule rehearsal time,” he said. “Never was it an idea that you’re going to have to sing with a mask on.”

CHOIR SCHEDULE

Dell Rapids High School

Dec. 7: Middle school band and choir

Dec. 8: High school band and choir

St. Mary

Dec. 3 : Grades K-3

Dec. 4 : Grades 4-6 

Dec. 7: Grades 7-12 band and choir

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