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And the band played on

It was a long summer for band directors across the country, but there is a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only is there a way to still bring band to schools, it has come with community volunteers and innovation.

IJ Holton band director Ethan Wightkin has been able to teach band class by using a nearly created mask for the student and a cloth bell cover that serves as an extension of the mask on the front of the instrument. Wightkin based what he is doing off a study from the International Performing Arts, which used aerosol to test how to safely use band instruments in the midst of a pandemic.

We’re following all of their recommendations. This really brings things to a safer level,” Wightkin said. “students. At IJ Holton, we’re pretty lucky that we’re still able to offer all of the classes that we normally would. I feel like we’re able to benefit from those experiences. It will obviously look different, but it will be exciting.”

The masks that IJ Holton is using came from Cherly Pyburn, a retired secretary at Austin Public Schools who now works the lunch room at IJ. Pyburn made 200 masks for the band program and she’s made a total of nearly 1,000, which she’s donated to Sumner, Mayo Clinic, Piggy Blue’s and the Matchbox Children’s Theater.

Pyburn started making the masks as soon as she saw a facebook post requesting the need for masks.

“I started doing it for just my own family and then I kept going. I haven’t sold any, and I’m given them all away. It kept me busy all summer,” Pyburn said. “It’s kind of the way I am. I try to help out wherever I can without being too big of a deal to anybody. If I can do it, I’ll do it.”

Pyburn learned to sew from her mother and she was quick to respond when IJ Holton Principal Dewey Schara asked her to help out. She was surprised when he told her what the band masks would look like.

“At first I kind of giggled when Mr. Schara asked if I could put holes in the mask, but then he explained it and I thought it would be really cool, Pyburn said. “These kids are just learning to play instruments and it will be a lifelong thing for them. I thought it was pretty important to get them going.”

Wightkin said the help provided by Pyburn helped ease the stress he went through during the summer.

“It’s pretty cool how the community saw the importance of these classes and they stepped up and made this happen,” Wightkin said. “It was stressful throughout the summer. Band directors all over were communicating on social media. I kind of had to take a step back, knowing there was no definite answer yet. It is such a relief now that we have guidelines to work with. We’re really lucky to live in a state and a district where the arts are valued.”

While things have not returned to normal in the band room, there still is a band room – and that’s a big plus for musicians of all ages.

“We have extra challenges this year and everyone’s been so appreciative and understanding,” Wightkin said. “I want to send a big thank you to everyone who’s supporting the schools and the music dept. at this time.”

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