Chorus students at the Regional School Unit 9 Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, practice singing outside. Chorus Instructor Ethan Wright has been focusing on exercises such as low-volume humming to help mitigate the challenge of students practicing while wearing face masks. Photo Courtesy of Ethan Wright

REGION — Teaching visual and performing arts classes this year is presenting new challenges for instructors, given the return to school guidelines put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In August, the Maine Department of Education released its framework for reopening schools. Chorus and singing could be taught outdoors with a distance of 14 feet if masks were worn and students faced the same direction.

If outdoors, non-musical theater could occur with 6 feet of distance with masks encouraged. If indoors, 6 feet distancing could occur with masks required.

Only outdoor instruction with at least 14 feet distance is permitted for musical instruments that require air blowing. Flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, tuba, French horn and other instruments which fall into that category shouldn’t be shared.

Instruction for stringed instruments, piano and other percussion instruments may be held indoors so long as all health and safety requirements are met.

For visual arts, the use of shared equipment should be minimized. If equipment must be shared, its use should be limited and disinfected between uses. Hand washing before and after using shared materials is also encouraged.


Regional School Unit 9 has adapted its arts programming to offer both remote and hybrid students the opportunity to continue courses in music, theater and visual arts.

“We feel it’s really important to keep these programs thriving and going through and not just finding something else to do to fill those times to keep kids invested and interested; but I feel like if you just stop doing it and your heart is not in it then the programs can die really fast, so we’re going full throttle,” Music Coordinator Chair Ethan Wright said in a phone interview.

Third grade students at Cascade Brook School (CBS) in Farmington, Cape Cod Hill School in New Sharon and Academy Hill School (AHS) in Wilton have the opportunity to play violin in-person while maintaining the school’s guidelines. Orchestra students that are not playing wind instruments are also able to practice indoors at Mt. Blue Middle and High School.

“Band is definitely a different story because that’s playing and singing outdoors, but it’s 14 feet apart. And everyone has to be masked for singing, and then you also have to get a certain type of guard that goes over the bell of instruments and those are really expensive,” Wright said, who works with chorus students at the high school.

Fifth and sixth grade band students at AHS and CBS will receive outdoor instruction for the first few weeks of school learning basics such as how to care for their instruments and how their posture should be when playing. Lessons will then go fully remote over the platform Seesaw.

For chorus, Wright said that he’s focusing on exercises that students can do while wearing masks such as low-volume humming and chanting songs. Across the board, Wright said that the restrictions posed by the pandemic has actually created an opportunity for music teachers to focus more on technique, music terminology, reading music and discussing music theory.


“All the music teachers have talked about this a lot. So often in music class you’re spending every second of the rehearsal to get ready for a concert and so you’re working on notes and making the songs sound good, but you don’t have a lot of time to learn about music theory or dive deep into terminology of music or get better at rhythms,” Wright said. 

RSU 9 music teachers are still committed to after school programs as well by offering the Mt. Blue Voices and Chamber Singers, and the middle school and high school fiddler groups remotely.

“So far, the kids have been great. Everyone understands the situation, but it’s frustrating that you can’t just belt out in song or rip a saxophone solo, but it’s just kind of the deal right now, and we’re just happy to all be in the same room at least talking about music,” Wright said.

For theater, the play production class offered at the high school will focus on monologues and the study of performance rather than participation in plays. The after school theater program has already held online auditions for its upcoming production that will primarily focus on monologue roles.

“Our rehearsals will be a mixture of remote and in-person if after school activities are allowed for small groups,” Theater Teacher Deborah Muise said in an email. “The actors will perform monologues and will wear masks, and the play will most likely be presented online.”

The majority of visual arts classes will continue this year by sending students home with materials and combining in-person and remote instruction. The district did decide to postpone ceramics and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) classes due to students’ limited access to tools and resources while at home.


As teachers adapt to hybrid learning, they are having to adjust to unique circumstances such as instructing students in masks and struggling to hear already quiet students through their masks. The required 6 foot distancing between students and staff only adds to this challenge.

Teaching remote learners while simultaneously instructing an in-person class is also an ongoing adjustment.

“For me, that’s one of the hardest challenges, doing remote and in-person at the same time. So all teachers have to set up a Zoom meeting for the time that you’re teaching an in-person class, and the remote students have to be there watching,” Wright said. “So for chorus for example, I set my laptop on the piano and I set up a Zoom meeting, and so there’s like 35-40 remote students at home in a giant Zoom meeting watching me teach in-person. Its very tricky.” 

In Regional School Unit 73, adaptations are also being implemented.

Darrell Roundy teaches elementary and high school band.

Adapting lessons plans will be an ongoing process, he said.


“I will do the best that I can given the circumstances. Students in hands-on programs will be dramatically impacted, some things you just learn by doing,” Roundy said. “From what I can find and have looked at, the decisions being made regarding music have very little in the way of research.”

With some RSU 73 students learning remotely and the remainder split into two cohorts, Roundy said neither his elementary nor high school band students may get an opportunity to play together as an entire group.

For Dianne Fenlason, who teaches band at Spruce Mountain Middle School and vocal ensemble and Rock of Ages at the high school, having to play or sing 14 feet apart outdoors will impact her classes the most.

Equally important for Fenlason as far as the new protocols are concerned are not being able to start a new student effectively, current students losing musical skill or students quitting altogether and not having students all at the same time.

“I will flip my classroom and students will play at home utilizing an online platform. I will focus on group activities only in the face to face setting and will focus on rhythm, notation and responding to music,” Fenlason said when asked about adapting her lesson plans. “I am also going to include a student composition component with the online app, Soundtrap.

“I believe this situation impacts the visual and performing arts the most. Performance and expression with others through instruments and voice is so important to the overall content of what we teach. Being prohibited from giving close instructional guidance to individual students as well as not having students collaborate will eliminate many of the things that have made our programs successful.”


With some students learning remotely and others split into two cohorts, students will never have a sense of unity within the ensemble, Fenlason said.

“They will never hear all parts or hear how their parts fits with others. They will not hear others by which they would typically model, they will have fewer colleagues to contribute to problem solving and brainstorming when given challenging tasks,” she said. “They will miss the fun within the large group that they would typically have, they may not see the benefit of participating without concrete objectives, i.e. performance opportunities.”

Dan Labonte teaches chorus and band at Spruce Mountain Middle School and music at the elementary school.

“With the current restrictions there is very little chance of having a performance of any kind in the near of future.  This is often the most important goal because this is what pushes students further into the performing arts,” he said in a recent email. “There are some opportunities to create virtual performances which are great to watch and listen to but do not provide the same feeling of belonging that comes come from working so hard together.

“They’re going to miss out on the emotional side of performing. And there are not a lot of options but we just have to keep creating music and keep it interesting to the students until it is again safe to perform and share their abilities with the public.”

Labonte will be able to adapt his lesson plans to meet the safety requirements. For general music, music concepts using instruments, body percussion and listening to expand student’s knowledge will be used, he said.


“Thanks to my friend Tammy Lindsey, she helped me set up an outdoor classroom for the time being until the weather gets too cold,” Labonte said. “With the outdoor classroom we can do some singing following the guidelines, but it is also a nice place to be and continue to use this classroom after this time has passed. With the students strictly online, I will be focusing on the same concepts but relying on technology to assist in learning about music concepts.”

Theater musical productions at the high school and middle school will not be possible but Labonte said he is hoping to put on plays without music.

The new teaching methods will impact students, but there isn’t much choice, Labonte said. All the performing arts will struggle, he added.

“With no performance opportunities anywhere in sight, student’s motivation is waning more this year. That rush of performing in being a part of something that is much bigger than you and seeing the final result of months of hard work is not currently an option,” Labonte said. “All our performing goals are set back indefinitely until it is again safe to perform.”

Understanding why does not make up for missing giving the students a chance to perform, he added.

Small classes this year does make it easier to connect with the students which is a plus, Labonte said.


“On the other hand, with the classes split you cannot work on group concepts of working towards a larger goal. All groups will be able to receive an education with the hybrid looking somewhat different than the virtual but that is too be expected,” Labonte said.

Tamara “Tammy” Lindsey, an art teacher at Spruce Mountain Elementary School in Jay, has created an outdoor classroom to use with her students this year. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Lindsey teaches art at Spruce Mountain Elementary School. She has created an outdoor classroom in the woods behind the school. A similar classroom is used for music classes.

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, a group of fourth grade students made their way along the marked path to reach a small clearing. Several artist boards were seen resting against logs spread throughout the area.

Lindsey told the students they could sit on the log as is or turn it on its side to sit on. Students could also kneel beside it and use the log as a desk, she said.

A bulletin board, table and wagon filled with supplies were already there for Lindsey to use during her lesson.

“You’ll be making a self-portrait today,” she said. “It will be kind of cartoony.”

When some students needed pencils, Lindsey opened a container, wiped each pencil with a disinfectant wipe and handed it to a student. She had another small tote nearby for used pencils to be placed in at the end of class for cleaning later.



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