Nova Scotia·Point of View

Why can students play sports but not sing in these pandemic times?

A Nova Scotia high school student says he and his peers are willing to wear masks, hold physically distanced rehearsals or even move outside — if only the province will allow them to sing again.

Students would wear masks, physically distance or go outside to make singing safe

The choir at North Nova Education Centre wants to be able to sing together again, albeit in a safe way during a pandemic. They're shown here at the New Glasgow Music Festival in 2019. (William Austin)

I have been shamefully quiet about the provincial government's treatment of the arts since the opening of our schools.

But I can't stay silent any longer.

Instead, I want to challenge the province: find a way for students to sing during this pandemic.

Music has been at the heart of my high school experience. I go to North Nova Education Centre and I am in my senior year. I am one of the co-presidents of the music program at my school and a member of the band and choir. 

And I hope to study vocal music at university next year.

When school first opened in the fall, we had many strict rules due to COVID-19: extracurricular programs were on hold, social distancing and masks were required and you had to go outside during break and lunch.

But as September progressed, the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF) was put in charge of coming up with a plan to play sports during a pandemic.

Different rules for music than sports

As of Oct. 1, sports were back in full swing with teams practising in the gym for upwards of two hours. Players don't have to wear masks on the field, because they're exercising and breathing heavily. Until the recent uptick in cases in Halifax Regional Municipality, sports teams could also travel to other schools for competitions as long as they were home by the end of the day.

I hoped it would be the same for our choirs and our bands, but the Nova Scotia government has been in charge of those programs. 

And there are many more restrictions than there seem to be for sports. 

Students at North Nova Education Centre practice for band. They sit two metres apart and, if possible, wear masks while playing. (William Austin)

Band rehearsals can only happen for an hour and students must wear masks and be physically distanced. Students in the woodwind and brass sections can only rehearse for 30 minutes, due to the exhalation of air through those instruments and the concentration of aerosol particles within the room. 

After half an hour, no one is allowed to rehearse in that room for 45 minutes. We're told it's to give the ventilation system a chance to do a complete cycle and clean the air. 

But I have to wonder, what's the difference between breathing through a saxophone or a trombone with a bell cover — essentially a mask at the end of the instrument — and panting unmasked on teammates in a basketball tournament? Why is one safe, but not the other?

Not allowed to sing

On top of this tight restriction on band practice, we are prohibited from singing either in a choir or in class. 

We have spoken up many times about how we're willing to sing outside, wearing masks and staying two metres apart if needed. We know the risks, we know the precautionary measures that would have to be put in place, but we're not allowed to sing. 

We are willing to do anything to be allowed to sing safely.- William Austin

We don't want to travel to other schools or stand right next to another group without wearing masks, but we do want to sing together and strengthen our school communities. 

We are willing to do anything to be allowed to sing safely, but no one seems willing to give us the chance. Members of the Nova Scotia Choral Federation met virtually with Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, at the end of October to put forward a safety plan.

Nothing seems to have come of it in more than a month. 

Mental health

We've learned during the past nine months that the arts are so important to us, especially for maintaining our mental health. We connected through the Ultimate Nova Scotia Kitchen Party and other online events where community members got to safely have a good time. 

But once things were considered safe enough for schools to open, the arts were pushed aside.

Many seniors want to go into music degrees next year, myself included, but our skills will get forgotten. Other students are dependent on a music credit to graduate. 

Music teachers aren't permitted to speak out, so we must. I hope other students, friends and family spread our message: bring back our music community.

And, please, let us sing.



William Austin

Grade 12 student

William Austin is the student co-president of the music program at North Nova Education Centre in New Glasgow. He's 17 and hopes to study vocal music at university.