High school marching bands and show choirs in Nebraska now have a road map for how to hold summer practices and camps.
New state guidance released Tuesday strongly recommends that during those activities students practice social distancing and preventive hygiene.
For bands, the guidance recommends that for all drill and on-field formations, students be spaced at least three steps apart, or about 5 1/2 feet.
That would mean none of the tight, shoulder-to-shoulder marching formations, at least for now.
It also recommends that kids bring their own individual water bottles, no sharing of sheet music, folders or equipment, and no food prepared by band boosters.
Students at show choir camps are advised to keep six feet apart and maintain physical distancing while singing or dancing.
That means spacing risers and chairs to ensure social distancing.
The guidance further advises against sharing music, props, instruments or costumes without proper cleaning and disinfection.
The guidance was created by the Nebraska Department of Education, the Nebraska Music Education Association, the Nebraska State Bandmasters Association, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and local public health districts.
It is being offered as a resource for school administrators to determine when and how to begin to safely engage in school music offerings this summer.
Officials borrowed some of the language from guidance developed by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The guidance is directed toward summer practices, but it could extend into the fall, depending on changing health conditions.
Bandmasters president Nathan LeFeber, who is band director at Kearney High School, said Tuesday the goal is to ease bands safely back onto the field.
“It’s been killing us all being apart so long,” he said.
He said local music directors were eager for guidance so they could move forward with summer camps and practices.
Officials will revisit the guidance later in the summer to determine how to proceed in the fall, he said.
State officials are keeping an eye on a national study evaluating the risks of COVID-19 being spread through the air by singing or playing a wind instrument.
Once those results are published, officials may provide further guidance on how instructors should go about putting the marching maneuvers, and the show choir choreography, to music.
A number of state national performing arts organizations have joined in that study of risks in performance and rehearsal spaces.
The study will examine aerosol rates produced by wind instrumentalists, vocalists, and actors, and how quickly those microscopic droplets accumulate in a space.
Once the aerosol rates are better understood, the study will focus on remediation in confined spaces like rehearsal rooms, classrooms and performance settings.
In the meantime, band directors can begin teaching students the fundamentals this summer, he said.
If bands were to continue to social distance in the fall, their shows would look a lot different.
A typical marching band show combines spread-out formations with tightly bunched ones, as close as elbow to elbow. Some shows build in theatrical elements in which students dance, sing and interact with one another well inside the six-foot halo that’s recommended to deter COVID-19’s spread — such interactions are even more integral in show choir performances.
In band, spacing of students can also affect the the sound of the band. Spreading the musicians out can diffuse the sounds of the instruments, as well as make it difficult for musicians at one end of the field to stay in time with those at the other end.
Most bands start working on shows in the summer, so before school starts students are well on their way to learning the music, formations and steps. The marching season reaches its crescendo in late fall when bands across the state compete in the Bandmasters’ marching contest.
LeFeber said already there are discussions about possibly waiving some of the contest rules in light of the pandemic.
The guidance contains the usual advice on hygiene, and encourages working in small groups whenever possible. It also calls for regularly cleaning and disinfecting instruments, and devising plans for getting kids and instruments to and from practices while observing distancing and sanitation guidelines.
Officials say the guidance will be updated as needed when new information becomes available from the governor’s office and state and federal health officials.