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How Amherst schools are keeping music alive this school year

Amherst Central High School students are still connecting through music, at a safe distance
Posted at 8:55 AM, Sep 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-18 08:58:13-04

AMHERST, N.Y. (WKBW) — Schools have been planning for a different school year this fall, which means many things got put on the back burner, like music. But at the Amherst Central School District, teachers made sure that didn't happen.

“We never even considered the idea that we wouldn’t be able to have music. We figured, if we can put our minds to this, we can figure this out," said Matt Pendrak, Orchestra Director and Music Department Chair at Amherst Central High School.

Amherst Central High School Sign
Amherst Central High School Sign

Music is a core part of the curriculum there, but playing instruments in the band and singing in a chorus comes with a new set of rules and challenges during a pandemic.

“The biggest rub was, how are we going to do band and chorus with a distance of 12 feet instead of six feet," said Pendrak.

A challenge they quickly overcame by moving things to a tent outside.

Students stand in circles under this tent and play their instruments
Students stand in circles under this tent and play their instruments

"Every kid gets a Rubbermaid bin with their own instruments that get sanitized after every class. Under the tent, we have six feet circles spaced out 12 feet apart throughout the tent," said Julie Furlong, Music Teacher at Smallwood Elementary.

And when the weather turns cold, they will use auditorium space and cafeteria space. At the high school, they’re already taking advantage of their auditorium space.

“It’s big, it has a great acoustical quality to it. I’m able to essentially assign seats,” said Pendrak.

Amherst students have their own assigned, distanced spots
Amherst students have their own assigned, distanced spots

So students will be able to sing or play their instruments from their assigned places at a distance. When students are performing at the tent or in the auditorium, band members don’t have to wear masks or cover their instruments, but chorus singers do.

You'd think this would be more difficult, but teachers say it’s actually helping students grow.

“Even just being together is going to make a big difference and it has. It’s made students play stronger, sing stronger,” said Pendrak.

Teachers say students love the new set up

Both teachers say because of these adjustments, this school year is off to a fantastic start.

“It brings a unique set of challenges, like kids forgetting their sweatshirts or bugs flying in or yesterday we had the neighborhood wild turkey come in, so it definitely is a unique year, but we’re doing what we can," said Furlong.

If all continues to go well, they're even planning to have three to six live performances this year.