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Music instructors push for changes to band and orchestra restrictions

Music educators from across Western New York want the state to change the restrictions.

BUFFALO, New York — Music educators from across Western New York want the State to reconsider the restrictions that are in place for the band and orchestra students. The current guidance states a distance of 12 feet must be maintained for activities that require "projecting the voice" and "playing a wind instrument."

2 On Your Side's Karys Belger spoke with instructors in Erie County and Niagara County. They explained the 12-foot distance makes it more difficult for students to learn how to play together cohesively. 

Lou Vitello, an instructor at Clarence High School and director of the school's Wind Ensemble, explained this has proven challenging for his students.  

"Part of playing the ensemble is hearing other people in the group from low to high matching pitch, creating musical lines and phrases. If you can't hear everybody that you're working with, that can make things very difficult", he told 2 On Your Side's Karys Belger. 

Vitello explained, his district has been contacting the New York State Department of Health to try and get the restrictions lifted. He also described a plan that was curated by staff which would include students wearing masks and putting bell covers over their instruments, the same safety measure they're taking now. The only difference would be the distance between the students.    

In order to meet those guidelines, Vitello says the students are practicing in the gym. Concerts are live-streamed over YouTube for parents. He also explained students who play string instruments are able to be closer together, but there are still hurdles when combining them with the students who play wind instruments.

 "It's just not educationally sound," he explained. 

Schools in Erie County are not the only ones who are feeling the strain of the current restrictions. In Niagara County, students are holding concerts over Zoom, and not every school is able to accommodate an ensemble with the restrictions.

Megan Dray, is the president of the Niagara County Music Educator Association and is a teacher at Lockport High School. She explained, for younger grades especially, the number of students who want to participate is a challenge and many cannot do so because of the restrictions. 

She also explained that students are wearing masks with slits in them to play their instruments while practicing, but it would be better if they were able to be closer together. 

"You could potentially go from no ensembles whatsoever for students to these kids being able to participate in chorus and band and orchestra again.  It could have just a phenomenal impact. Just a slight change can make a huge difference for a lot of these kids," Dray told 2 On Your Side's Karys Begler. 

2 On Your Side reached out to the New York State Department of Health. An email said in part, "We are working to safely reopen additional industries, including the performing arts."