How a Yellowknife school runs music class without singing or playing wind instruments

Humming, talking, but definitely no singing. This music program at École Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife is doing something different to adapt to this new COVID-19 reality.

École Sir John Franklin High School going ahead with music class with major tweaks

Music teacher Susan Shantora has found a way to forge ahead with her music program at Yellowknife's École Sir John Franklin High School during the pandemic. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

How do you have a music class without singing, or a band without playing wind instruments? 

As music programs are taking a hard hit due to COVID-19 transmission risks, music teacher Susan Shantora found a way to forge ahead with her music program at Yellowknife's École Sir John Franklin High School.

Talking through a song, humming, and being part of an air band is allowed, said Shantora. But no singing is permitted in class.

"It's unbelievably difficult," said Shantora, getting emotional about how much she misses the freedom to sing. "I have sung all my life ... I just burst into songs randomly."

Shantora said it hasn't been easy to make the sudden shift.

"Music is melody and rhythm and song and sustained air and it is so complex an artform, so to be able to do only one aspect of that entire musical puzzle, it's a lot of restraint ... required."

It gets my mind off the academic part of school, it clears my head.- Haylee Fradsham, Grade 11 student

But after being back at school last week, Shantora said her students were supportive.

"Week one has been very fantastic. Students are extremely co-operative, very onboard with the new protocols, they're helping each other, they're helping me. We're all in this together," she said on Friday.

In class, Shantora said students will learn through air band as she looks at finger positions, and through speech noises where she corrects their rhythm. Then the students take their instruments home to practise. Shantora will check in with students online for one-on-one lessons.

She hopes this independent learning will help develop the students into better musicians. 

"I'm telling the kids that this is your opportunity. It's going to be very boring, it's going to be like eating spinach and brussels sprouts all the time," she said. 

"But the investment is going to pay off because once we get together as an ensemble, as choir, as band, then you're going to feel even more confident."

'I was a little on the edge': student

Student Haylee Fradsham in Grade 11 has been involved in band, choir and drama since her first year and said it builds her confidence.

"It gets my mind off the academic part of school, it clears my head, and it's just overall amazing just to be a part of something at school," Fradsham said.

She noted that class is different this year with the masks.

Sir John Franklin High School's music class in September 2020. Haylee Fradsham, right, says the restrictions have given her more time to work at home and to be 'more open' to the notes and sounds she's making. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

"I was a little on the edge of it because it's been such a big part of my life ... but it is what it is. I'm more worried about everyone's safety."

She said the restrictions have given her more time to work at home and be "more open" to the notes and sounds she's making, but is wishing for things to go back to normal.

"I'm hoping that restrictions can get lifted soon," she said.

Teacher Shantora said she's grateful that her school administration lets her continue teaching music in a creative way.

"For a student like Haylee, this is why we do what we do," said Shantora. "There are many others like her."

There's one more hope for Shantora, who says during the pandemic, there could be "so much fear" about losing loved ones and elders to the illness.

"Music, drama, art gives voice to those emotions," she said. "I'm hoping the silver lining of all this experience we're going through now is that there's going to be a magnificent burst of art."

Written based on an interview by Loren McGinnis, produced by Rachel Zelniker


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