His son Cooper, a seventh grade sax player at Plainfield Community Middle School in Indiana, uses a surgical mask with a slit. It sometimes jerks to the side with the vibrations of playing, but Cooper said it "feels good as long as you have it in the right place." Cooper also helped his dad make a bell cover with fabric and MERV-13 material.
While many groups use homemade bell covers, McCormick's Group in Wheeling, Illinois, has transformed its 25-year-old business of making bell covers to display school colors and insignias into one that is making musicians safer with two-ply covers made of polyester/spandex fabric. CEO Alan Yefsky said his company started reinforcing the covers with the second layer this summer. Sales of the $20 covers have soared.
"It's keeping people employed. We're helping keep people safe," Yefsky said. "All of a sudden, we got calls from nationally known symphony organizations."
Other professional musicians take a different tack. Film and television soundtracks are often recorded in separate sessions; woodwinds and brass players in individual plexiglass cubicles and masked, with distanced string players recording elsewhere.
The U.S. Marine Band in Washington, D.C., practices in small, socially distanced groups, but string instrumentalists are the only ones wearing masks while playing.
For both professionals and students, the pandemic has virtually eliminated live audiences in favor of virtual performances. Many musicians say they miss traditional concerts but are not focusing on what they've lost.
"Creating that sense of community — an island to come together and play — is super important," said Cates, the Indiana trumpet player. "Playing music feels like a mental release for a lot of us. When I'm playing, my mind is off of the pandemic."
Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
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