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For Josh Haq, recent easing of COVID-19 restrictions on classroom music is something definitely worth singing about.
The 17-year-old Riverview High School student has always enjoyed taking part in school music so when COVID-19 led to restrictions preventing singing within Nova Scotia schools, it hit him hard.
“A lot of my day pre-COVID consisted of singing in the hallways and playing guitar and piano so when COVID hit, that changed,” said Haq. “I was very happy to hear we were able to sing again even though it’s with masks and six feet apart and everything — that’s to be expected.”
Just before school began in September, the provincial government placed some of the strictest rules in the country on the teaching of music, especially in regards to singing. From August until earlier this month, students of all ages were not allowed to sing inside or even outside on school grounds, even if they were masked and socially distanced. That has been eased as of this week with students allowed to sing if they are a minimum of two metres or six feet away from each other. Students in Grade 4-12 must be masked (Grades Priminary-3 don’t need to be masked). Singing must also not take place longer than 30 minutes at a time.
Lesley Ann Andrews, an arts education consultant and music teacher within the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre For Education, says the return of singing is a relief to everyone involved in school music programs.
“While we have been making music since September, it has been in limited ways,” she said. “We weren’t allowed to sing in any capacity at all, not even outside.
“A return to safe singing is so welcome for our students.”
In addition, the humble recorder somehow became public musical enemy number one and had been banned during that same time period. The recorder can now be played in Nova Scotia schools, following two-metre distancing between students who must also face forward in straight, staggered lines, instead of the traditional semi-circles. Students are also now allowed to hum as well, another activity that was banned under the previous regulations.
Andrews acknowledges the Nova Scotia rules were tough, especially in regards to choral music but Public Health did reconsider.
“The Department of Public Health were really receptive to the meetings and the ideas that were brought forward and the research and plus our low epidemiology in Nova Scotia and they had a closer look at what the guidelines were and made the changes.
“Being super cautious in Nova Scotia has served us really well.”
School band with wind instruments had been allowed all along with proper distancing (six feet/two metres for all wind instruments except trombones which require nine feet/three metres) and bell covers required for most instruments.
No live performances or concerts are allowed in schools at this time although that could change in the future.
The loosening of the rules is being welcomed by both students and teachers since music contributes so much to their lives.
“For so many of our students, singing is such a huge outlet for them, for social and emotional health and everything else, and mental health,” said Andrews and Haq agrees.
“Music and the arts were always my escape when I came to school,” said Haq. “High school has its ups and downs for everybody and for me, something that’s very beneficial is being able to go to music class and sing.
“It’s what I love to do.”
Elizabeth Patterson is the culture reporter at the Cape Breton Post.