The Future of Ensembles Committee

NYSSMA Ad-Hoc Committee Report
The Future of Ensembles – in the COVID-19 Era
Dr. David M. Brown, President

Committee Members:
Band – Jonathan Hunkins (Co-Chair), Michael Struzik, Michael Cordaro
Chorus – Monique Campbell-Retzlaff (Co-Chair), Norman Zogaib, Carrie Zugelder
Orchestra – David Beck (Co-Chair), Catherine Birke, Hana Walton
Michael Salzman, NYSSMA Immediate Past-President

Questions and Answers for Ensemble Directors and Schools

In June of 2020, NYSSMA President David M. Brown charged this ad-hoc committee with looking at concerns regarding musical ensembles in our schools in light of the Covid-19 Global Pandemic.  The committee got right to work reviewing a plethora of research and reports.   We decided to present our findings in the form of a Q&A document intended to support K-12 decision makers and ensemble directors.  We understand that this is a very fluid and constantly changing situation.  The information below has been compiled to the best of our ability using current, June 2020, data and predictions for the near future.  We also understand that there is no one-size-fits-all situation and that variations in school facilities will necessitate a wide variety of solutions.

We believe that music programs are extremely vital in the Covid-19 era.  The health and safety of our students must be paramount during these difficult times.  That certainly includes the social and emotional well being of our students.  Participation in music is social, and it is also emotional.  Schools that make the important decisions to support and foster music education during this global crisis, will be doing so in the very best interest of the well being of the students placed in their care.

NYSSMA has joined arts associations from across the country in sponsoring a research study at the University of Colorado. The study is examining aerosol rates produced by wind instrumentalists, vocalists, and actors, and how quickly those aerosol rates accumulate in a space.  Preliminary results are expected in mid-July.  We will be reviewing them very carefully and will add those conclusions to this document as soon as possible.

Follow this link for more information: Unprecedented International Coalition led by Performing Arts Organizations to Commission COVID-19 Study

 We hope that our work here will answer some of the important questions that school leaders and music educators will have to ask in order to insure a safe return to music performance ensembles.



  • Is it safe to hold musical ensemble rehearsals during this Global Pandemic?
    • It is our belief that with proper strategic planning, it can be safe to hold rehearsals.  During these unprecedented times, there are health concerns and safety risks in any situation where people gather together.  If our schools are to reopen before there is an effective vaccination for Covid-19, then it will be impossible for schools to eliminate all risks of infection.  Schools will, however, do everything in their power to mitigate those risks.  This document is intended to serve the education community with the best possible ways to reduce chances of spreading infection within ensemble rehearsals, with the understanding that all schools will be looking to mitigate these risks throughout their buildings.
  • Is there a necessity for social distancing in rehearsals?  Are masks recommended?
    • Yes.  Studies are reporting various findings for band, chorus and orchestra regarding social distancing.  These will be reported below, but there is consistency in the recommendations that social distancing is a significant factor in reducing risks of infection.  Schools are going to need to find ways to maintain social distancing throughout their buildings.  This includes classrooms, gymnasiums, cafeterias, auditoriums and rehearsal rooms.  Masks will be used to varying degrees throughout our schools and will be recommended whenever possible.  See below for more detailed recommendations.
  • What are some considerations for room usage?
    • Several of the reports listed below recommend using large spaces with high ceilings for large group rehearsals.  Many schools may be able to make use of auditoriums or multi-purpose rooms to allow for proper social distancing.  Weather permitting, rehearsing outdoors will significantly reduce risks of infection.
  • What procedures can be implemented to make our rehearsal spaces safer?
    • Doors opened at the beginning and end of class to ensure students are not touching door handles
    • One-way traffic patterns established for entering and exiting the room, pick- up, and storage of instruments
    • Students should wash hands or use hand sanitizer before and after class
    • Students should refrain from sharing classroom materials like pencils, sheet music, music stands, rosin, whenever possible.
    • Frequently touched objects in the classroom should be disinfected regularly according to CDC and local guidelines.
  • Are there scheduling recommendations for various reopening models?
    • This report from the American Bandmasters Association specifically discusses 4 different scenarios for a blended learning environment.
    • Scheduling Scenario 1 – Full School Day with Social Distancing Practices
    • Scheduling Scenario 2 – A/B School Day Designed to Reduce School Density
    • Scheduling Scenario 3 – Blended Music Instruction Including a Combination of In-Person Meetings and Internet-Based Video Conference Participation
    • Scheduling Scenario 4 –If Classroom Space Limitations Require Multiple Groups to Trade Rooms (Band – Week One, Choir – Week Two, Etc.) or If No Other Possibility for In-School Exists
      ABA Covid-19 Student Safety and Music Program Continuation Ideas for  Consideration (Page 5, Part 2)
  • How many music students can I fit in my room at any one time?
    • Occupancy is determined by size and shape of the rehearsal space and what specific requirements need to be adhered to.  i.e. – 6ft., 8ft., 10ft. apart.  You can use this resource to calculate the exact number you can fit based on those guidelines.
  • How long does the virus live inside instruments and on surfaces?
  • How long do the particles stay airborne in my room after a rehearsal?
    • Micro droplets carry many viruses.  We produce them when we speak loudly or breath heavily.  The risk of micro droplet spread is greatly increased when people are in close proximity with poor ventilation.  The use of a mask/face shield greatly reduces how far micro droplets can spread.  This research study below shows micro droplets staying airborne in the immediate area for more than 20 minutes. Creating two openings in the room will remove micro droplets rapidly.  This should be done at least once per hour.
  • Are there recommendations for ventilation of rehearsal rooms?
  • Will live performances be possible?
    • While live performances for an audience may not be advisable, live streamed or pre-recorded concerts may be a feasible alternative.  It is important to check with publishers and copyright holders for proper licensing.
    • Small ensemble vs full ensemble performances may be an option.
    • If a program consists of multiple ensembles, consider multiple performances with a reduced number of ensembles.
  • As districts are developing plans for re-opening, how can I make sure that my ensembles don’t become a second thought?



  • Do instruments that have not been used since school closed need to be cleaned? 
    • If students are picking up instruments for the first time since school has been closed, those instruments will not need more than general cleaning.
    • If distributing instruments for the first time since schools have closed, the NFHS and NAfME recommend, out of an abundance of caution, that all cases be sprayed with an aerosol disinfectant.
  • How should shared/personal instruments be “cleaned/sanitized”?
    •  The University of Nevada-Las Vegas, School of Music has provided a resource as a reminder for proper hygiene related to music instruments. This guide has been adapted with language that is relevant for anyone playing music instruments in a school environment.
  • What safety concerns are there regarding wind instruments?
    • Brass
      • According to studies, the smaller the bell the more air movement in front of the instrument.  However, none exceeded the safety range of 3 feet. (5.1)
      • The use of some sort of material to block the flow of droplets and aerosols is also recommended. (5.3)
    • Woodwinds
      • The amount of air movement detected in woodwinds is definitely greater than brass instruments due to the smaller blowing openings and the less resistance. The clarinet, oboe and bassoon achieved a little over 3 foot distance while the flute was a little larger. (5.2)
      • The use of some type of material or divider to block the droplets and aerosols is recommended. (5.3)
  • Which accommodations to rehearsal rooms may be helpful to ensure a safer environment?
    • Central or individualized receptacles for condensation removal.
    • A suggestion could be a bucket with a water and dishwashing liquid mixture.
    • Possible use of room dividers.
    • Limit sharing of instruments/supplies.
    • Including music and percussion mallets.  
    • For percussionists, a suggestion to assign each their own stick bag with all necessary mallets and sticks.
    • Additional technology to accommodate a blended model of teaching
      • i.e. half the band face to face and half simultaneously on video conference.  Alternate days.
      • Allows students working from home to experience and play along with a full band rehearsal.
  • Which protective measures can be effective?



  • How should my rehearsal room be set up for instruction?
    • Singing in very large rooms is best.  If meeting indoors, increased natural ventilation is highly recommended (Morawska).  Students should be appropriately distanced, taking necessary precautions as per school guidelines. If masks are required, surgical face masks are shown to absorb 92 % of the particles that exit the mouth when singing.  
    • Consider separating your choir into smaller sections following the schedule determined by your school district. (A/B day rotation, half day, etc)
    • Consider the option to rehearse in the auditorium (if the classroom is not adequate) while following social distancing guidelines.  If possible, weather permitting, consider the option of rehearsing outdoors.
  • Are there alternatives to sharing music?
    • Each singer should have individual copies of music; no sharing of materials.
    • Consider purchasing additional copies of music through your building’s textbook fund.
    • Project music on a large screen.
    • Consider eliminating storage of folders, music in the rehearsal space. Each singer should take materials with them after each rehearsal.
  • What are possible strategies to reduce the spread of droplets and aerosols during choral rehearsals?
    • Strategic placement of singers with suggested physical distance.
    • Pivot instructional strategies to reduce the number of singers singing at any given time.
    • Use of humming during the learning process rather than open mouth singing.
    • Use of student leadership (at the upper levels) for student led instruction which will allow for smaller group instruction.
  • What other musical activities related to choral singing are possible in a rehearsal setting?
    • Skill building activities
    • Literacy skills, recording themselves and submitting
    • Project-Based Learning
    • Guided and critical listening to other ensembles
    • Composition (perhaps with a local composer)
    • Working towards an “honor choir” project, students will receive repertoire and prepare for performance
    • Dive deeper into NYS Core Arts Standards: Responding, Connecting, Creating



  • How far apart should musicians be spaced in orchestra rehearsal?
  • What is the best type of space in which to rehearse?
    • A space with enough room to socially distance is optimal.
    • Utilize outside spaces when possible.
    • Mechanical ventilation (HVAC) is important in indoor spaces.
    • Use of a space that has direct ventilation through windows.
    • Avoid rooms with no outside ventilation.
  • Should string students and teachers use face masks in rehearsal?
  • Can students share music stands and sheet music?
  • Can orchestra students share instruments?
  • How do I disinfect string instruments?
    • Professional string instrument cleaner
    • N.B. Instrument polish is NOT a germicidal cleaner- be sure to differentiate between the two!
    • Lysol or clorox wipes
    • A microfiber cloth damped with 10% bleach to 90 % water mixture.
    • A microfiber cloth damped with hydrogen peroxide.
    • As always, test products in an inconspicuous area the first time you use cleaners on an instrument.
    • Check with your local luthier.
    • Please see links for more detailed information.
  • What can be done to mitigate any damage to the wooden surfaces of a string instrument after using a cleaner on an instrument?
    • Mineral oil on 0000 steel wool or premium microfiber cloth.         

While we certainly hope that this document will be helpful, we know that it is not comprehensive.  Feel free to contact us with questions.  We’ll do our best to help.


NYSSMA Ad-Hoc Committee – The Future of Ensembles






Co-Chair (Band)

Jonathan Hunkins




Michael Struzik




Michael Cordaro

William Floyd


Co-Chair (Chorus)

Monique Campbell-Retzlaff




Norman Zogaib




Carrie Zugelder



Co-Chair (Orchestra)

David Beck




Catherine Birke




Hana Walton



NYSSMA Immediate Past President

Michael Salzman


New York State School Music Association
Dr. David M. Brown, President
Russ Faunce, President-Elect
Michael J. Salzman, Immediate Past President
Edmund Chiarello, Second Vice President
Robin DeSantis, Third Vice President
Dr. David Gaines, Executive Director


The Mission of the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA®) is to advocate for and improve music education across New York State by promoting and producing appropriate activities and programs for its membership and students in member school music programs.

Related Documents