There is a battle for survival that many of us don’t even know about.

While educators everywhere are fighting to keep their jobs, music and art educators have historically seen their programs on a steady decline. According to Americans for the Arts, two- thirds of public school teachers believe that the arts are getting crowded out of the school day, especially for low-income or disadvantaged students.

By adding the pandemic into this equation, the arts are not only seeing new budget cuts, but they are also being viewed as unsafe for students. Like sneezing or coughing, it is true that singing can quickly spread COVID-19 particles that remain in our lungs. As for wind instruments, researchers found that viral transmission is also possible without taking proper precautions.

“There are numerous high schools and some colleges in Iowa that are not continuing their choir, band, drama and speech programs,” Levi Capesius, fourth-year music education and vocal performance major, said. “Music and arts educators are all pushing for safety because they do not want these programs to be ripped away from the students.”

“Music and arts educators are all pushing for safety because they do not want these programs to be ripped away from the students.”

– levi capesius

While many educational institutions have questioned keeping their arts programs during COVID-19, I believe that Wartburg is striving to preserve fine arts here within our campus community. At the same time, students’ safety has been a top priority during rehearsals.

“Music has a special place at Wartburg and we should do what we can to provide it within our campus health guidelines,” Dr. Dan Kittle, dean of students, said. “I have been heartened by how the music department has responded, utilizing physical distancing and outdoor rehearsals, two mitigation strategies we know to be effective.”

With proper safety measures as well as support from administrators, the arts can still survive and a portion of the risk can be mitigated. We are seeing this here at Wartburg College and at other schools. The department has used the safety practices Kittle mentioned and many more: temperature checks, instrument covers, masks, good personal hygiene and proper space ventilation.

Wartburg Choir rehearses while wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Photo by Silvia Oakland.

Aside from protecting our physical health, we should preserve music programs to support our mental well-being. While there are various medicinal treatments and mood-boosting activities that exist, listening to live music, streaming music or creating music serves as a potential source of healing that should not be overlooked. I am not saying that music is a cure-all for every person and their health needs, but it has the power to help you cope with everyday stressors.

Professor Barbara Ashton, the music therapist in residence at Wartburg College, echoed the notion that music has the power to aid us through difficult times.

“We are inherently musical beings,” Ashton said. “By connecting with this phenomenon, we can tap into and express our humanity and we can connect with others. We can celebrate and mourn and protest together and we can release and express complex emotions.”

The main takeaway: whether it’s live or recorded, music is needed now more than ever. With a bit of creativity, science and leadership, we should not abandon these programs, but instead, help them flourish.



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