The current pandemic has had a tremendous impact on musicians, but none have been affected more than wind instrument players. In the fall, wind ensembles were able to practice outdoors where masking was not enforced. After musicians were forced indoors due to cold weather, they had to be masked while playing.
For Valika Trivisvavet ’24, playing the saxophone with a special mask needed some time to adjust. Her instrument mask has a hole and a flap that covered the hole when she is not playing. To play the saxophone, she needs to open the flap and put the instrument in her mouth. While playing, the flap would stay over her nose. Valika says, “The mask was uncomfortable at the start, but now I’m used to playing with it. Some downsides are that it looks kind of funny and unprofessional when it [the mask] falls down. Also, the mask got stuck in my mouth a few times when I played.”
Oboe players share a similar mask with saxophone players. Many oboeists expressed in the fall that the mask affected their ability to breathe while playing, which in turn, affected their stamina. Some musicians expressed frustration when trying to take a breath and getting the mask stuck in their mouths. They would either need to play with restricted breathing or stop and start again. Amelie Kim ’25 cut a circular hole in the middle of a regular surgical mask for her oboe reed since the instrument mask provided did not fit her face. She says that this solution did not affect her ability to play in any particular way.
Clarinet players have a mask that had an opening over the mouth and a magnet to keep the opening shut when not playing. It is important to note that this mask opens horizontally. Musicians would keep the mask closed when not playing and then open the flap and stick the clarinet in their mouth to play. This type of mask makes it less likely for the fabric to become stuck in their mouth, but it still hinders musicians’ ability to play. Many clarinet players have expressed confusion because they do not see how this particular mask protected them from COVID-19. The mask does not cover the musicians’ nose and mouth when they are playing; therefore, it may be better to just remove the masks while playing and re-mask afterward.
Flutists in particular had difficulties playing with their flute masks because they have to stick the entire head joint of the flute into the mask through a hole on the right. The fabric presses against the flute, which affects the positioning of the flute and players’ embouchure, and blocks the airflow, creating a muffled tone out of the flute.
All in all, though many were unhappy with playing under a mask, the majority of musicians at CA have now grown accustomed to the special masks and it will not be long until they can play without any coverings.