Student playing the trumpet

Music Students Continue to Sing, Play Instruments in Safe Reconfiguration


Buffalo State College may have shifted the majority of its classes to remote instruction this semester in keeping with coronavirus safety measures, but that doesn’t mean Rockwell Hall with its many talented musicians has gone silent.

Students within the Music Department are still performing their classical, jazz, and contemporary pieces, just in different configurations.

“Our faculty members have put together safety plans, and the students have been responsible in carrying them out,” said Victoria Furby, associate professor and department chair.

The changes included retrofitting rehearsals so that players of wind instruments are situated 12 feet from one another.

Despite recent studies (the largest coming from the Berlin Symphony and the University of Colorado) that indicate playing some instruments poses significantly less risk than singing, the department decided to divide the instruments played by mouth—saxophones separate from horns separate from flutes—to provide 12 feet of social distance, Furby said. She directs the Chamber Choir, which has been wearing masks while rehearsing and observing 12 feet of distancing.

“The students have gone above and beyond what the campus is requiring and have done really beautifully.”

- Victoria Furby, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Music and Music Department Chair

The size of all musical groups has also been reduced. Normally, ensembles would have anywhere from 45 to 60 students. Now, they’re meeting in chamber groups of seven or eight students, the amount that can fit comfortably in practice rooms or the Performing Arts Center stage, leaving a 12-foot distance between them.

“The challenge has been to choose appropriate repertoires this way,” she said. “Some students play in multiple groups, and the others watching and waiting to perform are spread out through the PAC. The PAC staff has been great, marking what seats students can use and keeping a record of where students are sitting, which will help us, if needed, for contact-tracing purposes.”

Rehearsals are not leading up to live performances, however. Rather, students have prepared for one-time livestreamed performances that will start this month, with links available to a limited number of family and friends. They include the Chamber Choir and Chorale; Wind, Percussion, and Jazz ensembles; the Philharmonia Orchestra; and many solo student recitals.

“We have decided not to open these performances to the public to ensure we don’t violate copyright laws,” Furby explained. “Our livestreaming can be used for educational purposes only.”

Outside of performance-based courses, 80 percent of music instruction is taking place remotely this semester, with 50 percent of that offered in the synchronous format. For private lessons, students are still working one-on-one with their instructors, some remotely and some in person, Furby said.

Rick Fleming, professor and director of the Jazz and Wind ensembles and some of the Chamber ensembles, said the semester has been doing well, considering the circumstances.

“I had four basic goals: stay healthy, keep my students healthy, keep them playing, and keep them engaged,” Fleming said. “So far, we’ve been successful.”

His small ensembles meet once a week with a reduced rehearsal time and social distancing. The Jazz Ensemble meets twice a week following the same guidelines.

“While it may not be ideal, at least I am getting an opportunity to teach and make music in some way,” Fleming said.

Likewise, Furby noted, it’s been logistically challenging, but she’s grateful the students still get to perform together. She’s been impressed with the level of cooperation from both faculty and students to make the necessary changes. As for her choral group, she said, singing with masks has been a learning process, but students have risen to the challenge.

“It certainly does not produce the same sound quality,” she said. “But the students have gone above and beyond what the campus is requiring and have done really beautifully.”

Photos by Bruce Fox, campus photographer.