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Masks on while playing instruments? School music recommendations say it's possible

A large, first-of-its-kind music study being spearheaded by the National College Band Directors Association and the NFHS has implications for Iowa students.
Credit: WOI-TV
Local 5's Eva Andersen tried out what masked playing could feel like.

In July, the Iowa High School Music association released recommendations for performing arts students this Fall. It included recommending students wear masks while singing in chorus and even cutting a slit in a surgical mask to slip an instrumental mouthpiece through while playing.

It turns out, there's scientific research supporting the goofy-looking instrumental masks, albeit in the very early stages.

Credit: WOI-TV
Local 5's Eva Andersen tried out what masked playing could feel like.

The National College Band Directors Association (NCBDA) partnered with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in March to figure out an innovative way to keep students playing this fall.

Dr. Mark Spede, the president of NCBDA , and Dr. James Weaver, the director of performing arts and sports at NFHS, searched for experts who could research aerosol projection as it relates to instrumentalists, singers, and theatre performers. 

They landed on two researchers, Dr. Shelly Miller at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Dr. Jelena Srebric at University of Maryland.

"We have pretty much two of the world's most renowned experts on indoor environmental engineering," said Dr. Weaver.

Credit: NFHS
Dr. Shelly Miller and Dr. Jelena Srebric are the lead researchers of the Aerosol Performance Study.

Spede and Weaver commissioned the $250,000 study, then worked on fundraising the hefty sum of money to make it work.

Four weeks in, they're starting to see some preliminary results. They've learned that trumpets and oboes, for example, project the most particles.

"[We're looking at] how much aerosol is being emitted out of each instrument or voice," said Dr. Weaver. "So what we’re seeing is most of the aerosols that would be expelled out are caught by the mask [the instrumentalist plays]. And the ones that would go where the hole is are going through the instrument."

So for wind instruments, they recommend using a bell covering.

Their research shows a bell cover with a double layer of spandex or nylon material, such as the material in women's hose, can greatly reduce the aerosol projection. 

They also say cutting a slit in a typical surgical mask with an exacto knife is effective. 

"Obviously, don’t wear a mask with a hole in it for just general walking around the hallways," said Dr. Weaver. "We don’t wanna see that. But this would be your performance mask."

Caleb Groomes, a 16-year-old soon-to-be junior at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, is aware that playing his clarinet with a mask around it will look a little funny.

"[My band director] sent us a pattern of a mask that essentially has two flaps," said Groomes.

"Honestly what these masks look like is a pair of underwear," Caleb's mom, Amy Casey said. 

However, they're willing to go with the flow in order to make sure that band this year is as close to normal as possible.

"Band gives you the opportunity to meet quite a few like-minded people," said Groomes.

His mom added, "They’re trying as best they can to get some sort of normalcy back for our kids."

Here is a link to the study, to follow developments.