But playing when schools were open brought the new challenge of complying with health authorities’ guidelines to avoid the spread of COVID-19 via aerosol generation.
Last year, when Melbourne emerged from its 112-day lockdown, education authorities banned singing, brass and woodwind on school grounds, drawing protests from music teachers. This year, the ban was lifted and replaced with detailed guidelines on density limits, room ventilation and instrument hygiene that make schools go to great lengths to play music.
Instruments have been categorised as high risk (trumpet, bass, trombone, oboe), intermediate risk (bassoon, piccolo, flute, French horn) and low risk (tuba).
In Ringwood’s case, this meant splitting its ensembles into separate rooms, putting some students indoors and others outdoors, with some even streaming remotely.
“If anything, it made the second lockdown seem easy,” Ms Pero says.
It’s also meant keeping irregular hours.
For year 11 student and ensemble percussionist Matthew Nolan, keeping up with his music in lockdown has meant forsaking one of the few benefits of remote learning: a midweek sleep-in.
“It’s a bit brutal. I have to get up at 6.30 and be there at 7.15 on the dot,” he says.
There were days when the effort didn’t seem worth it.
“I think a lot of people have probably had to dig deep a little bit. Sometimes, you have a bit of a rough patch and maybe lose a bit of motivation,” Matthew says. “But I think overall everyone just pushed through and knew it was going to be better than just giving up.”
The students managed to come together once this year for a winter concert when the state was free of community transmission. Now in lockdown again, they are clinging to the hope of going on a scheduled band tour before the year is done.
Viv McPherson, a parent at Ringwood and a music teacher at Rowville Secondary College, says the school’s persistence with its music program has preserved a critical point of connection for some students. “For many of them, it’s the reason they turn up to school, so it’s essential to keep it going for their wellbeing and for their literacy and numeracy,” she says.
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