Changing keys to keep playing
By Taylor Ann B radford Staff Writer
When it was discovered that the novel coronavirus could be transmitted through respiratory droplets, music departments across Cape Ann were stifled by new safety regulations.
“We are not allowed to sing in the classroom at all,” said Emily Prestigiovanni, a music teacher at Gloucester’s Beeman Memorial Elementary School.
The new regulations outlined by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education were tight; besides mandatory masks, choruses were not allowed to be conducted indoors, and individuals playing brass and woodwind
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Emily Prestigiovanni, a music teacher at Beeman Memorial Elementary School, talks about working out of tent, which is at the back of the school, that she calls her classroom. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, she will be teaching her students to play the ukulele and not the recorder, a wind instrument.
PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photo.
Anthony Prestigiovanni, director of bands for the Rockport Public Schools, works on editing his students music remotely due to COVID-19 at his Wheeler Point home in Gloucester.
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These regulations and more outlined on DESE’s website have prevented music departments in Gloucester and Rockport schools from hosting band and chorus for most — if not all — of the fall semester.
While the once timeless tradition of learning the “Hot Cross Buns” nursery rhyme on the recorder has been burned during the pandemic, one Gloucester teacher is getting creative to keep the music playing.
Prestigiovanni, who studied music therapy, is planning to use ukuleles as a safe alternative to recorders when helping students build a foundation for future instrument studies.
“I went into this year with a lot of hesitation and anxiety of how I can change my lesson plans,” the Gloucester resident said, explaining that she was trying to find fun and engaging opportunities for schoolchildren while still abiding by the COVID-19 regulations set by DESE.
“I was looking for the most cost-effective way for kids to make music,” she said. “Ukulele seemed like the best opportunity.”
The ukuleles that Prestigiovanni will be purchasing were made affordable by the Gloucester Education Foundation (GEF)’s School Response Fund.
“We were really excited to receive Emily’s application as music has always been a priority for GEF,” said GEF Executive Director Aria McElhenny, who explained that one of the non-profit’s first goals when it became established was to help bring back music education within the district.
“It is something that is near and dear to our hearts,” McElhenny said.
The tune in Rockport
The struggle to produce melodious sound safely was not limited to Gloucester this fall.
When Rockport’s school district decided to go fully remote, extracurricular activities such as band were going to have to look a lot different if they were still going to be made available for students.
Prestigiovanni’s husband Anthony, who is director of Rockport’s High School and Middle School bands, took on the challenge.
“When all of this — COVID related — started last year we didn’t have much time to prepare, so I thought, ‘what are my strengths’,” he said, noting his proficiency in audio and technology such as the Garage Band app.
To keep the band going despite a pandemic, Anthony Prestigiovanni records himself playing each student’s part, sends it to them in a form of a backing track, and then has instructed each student to download it and record their part over the track.
Once he has received each student’s recording, he then mixes the tracks together to create the illusion that the band is together in the same room.
“I am doing it for the kids,” Anthony Prestigiovanni said.
Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes. com.
Anthony Prestigiovanni, director of bands for the Rockport Public Schools, works on editing his students’ music remotely due to COVID-19 at his Wheeler Point home in Gloucester.
PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photo