Brody Ingraham: How are things going?

Mr. Bari: Going OK. It's been a really hard year, because I love to sing with students. I love to play instruments. I love teaching kids how to play instruments. It's difficult for me to maintain social distancing. It's just not really who I feel like I am. Just wishing we could do more. Feeling like we can't do as much and that we’re taking more time to do fewer things. Our last snow day was good because we meet virtually on snow days, and we got to sing.

Phoenix Dodge: What is it like to be a music teacher?

Mr. B.: I think it's just about sharing your passion of what you care about and how music has been an outlet for you as a teacher. A music teacher typically wants to pass on skills to other people, to open up those opportunities for students to get them in touch with all the different styles of music, all the different ways music is used, how to interact with an instrument and how to develop basic musical skills; I desire to open up a whole universe of music and give people tools and a feeling of connection.

Brody: When it wasn’t COVID, did everyone use their own instruments or did they share them?

Mr. B.: Band instruments have always been assigned on an individual basis, regardless of the new protocols.

Phoenix: Are you disappointed that we cannot sing this year?

Mr. B.: It has been really depressing. One of my big things to do when I’m home is to play the piano. I have also played the piano and sung along with my students, too, something I really love to do. To face all these world changes without the outlet of singing is a tremendous burden. I can't picture a world without singing. There's a country called Estonia where they have a huge singing tradition. I saw a video with 10,000 trained voices all singing in a choir. At one point they were told they could no longer observe their yearly singing custom. Finally they were told they could sing only if they sang different songs.

But history tells us that they sang their Estonian patriotic songs anyway during their yearly singing celebration. History goes on to say that the people of Estonia were so much happier after they got to sing together. That’s how I imagine it will be when we can all sing again together. We will all be so much happier.

Brody: Is it harder without singing with the students?

Mr. B.: It sure is. It’s kind of like living life in sepia tones. When we had a snow day recently, I sang with students, since we were meeting virtually from our own private homes. A couple of students kept making requests to sing songs that we have sung in the past. Singing is an important way to build community and establish deep connections.

Phoenix: How do you teach music this year?

Mr. B.: I have my computer and speakers on a rolling cart. I pass out papers and do things like rhythm bingo and instrument bingo. I put things together in a multimedia approach so I can relay a lot of information. The performance aspect of the music program has been impacted, but with the ukuleles, we’ve had an opportunity to interact with stringed instruments and have not had to go outside 14 feet apart to play instruments together in the dead of winter. I have done a lot of prescribed movement to songs, and I also have had an opportunity to show the episodes of a little music show miniseries that I made in my last two weeks of school last year.

Brody: How do you do band this year ?

Mr. B.: Things went a lot more slowly in starting up. It has taken longer to distribute materials. We started going outside to play instruments in the first trimester, standing 14 feet apart, so we were all down the side of the driveway here at school. Now with the colder weather we are back inside. Students have had to do fingerings on instruments without playing them out loud, which is not satisfying for them. Students are starting to ask to bring instruments back because there is not in-class support for playing flutes, clarinet, trumpet and trombone. This last trimester, we have used ukuleles to play our band songs. A few students play bells and violin and one student is taking viola.

Phoenix: Is it hard to hear your students with their mask on?

Mr. B.: It’s very difficult to hear people with their masks on, and I think it's hard for them to hear me, too. Sometimes we will be naming letter names in third grade on the treble clef. The problem is that the letters all rhyme with each other so sometimes I’ll ask “C?” and someone will say, “No! D!” Students tend to speak rather softly. The communication barrier is glaringly obvious.

Brody: Do you have a shorter amount of time for music since you are moving from classroom to classroom?

Mr. B.: Yes. I have to travel from class to class. I easily spend a good five minutes moving stuff and situating things to get started, including getting plugged in. Things get knocked over. I frequently misplace things. Students want to help, but I’m not always sure about what they could help with. I'm usually fairly organized with what I want to teach, but I keep playing out lessons in my mind only to be reminded that there’s a fair number of things that we cannot do. Recently, I learned we can sing inside now.

However, we have to achieve a 6-foot distance for singing. Unfortunately, that’s not possible with the size of each homeroom.

Phoenix: Did you learn how to play all of the instruments?

Mr. B.: I was given some pointers by Mr. Munson, Mr. Smith and Mr. Cameron before switching to elementary level so that I could teach beginning band. I can play six-note songs on flute, clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet, trombone, recorder, ukulele, violin, viola and bells. I do not play with the nuance that a professional would. I have played piano for around 27 years and have sung my whole life.

Phoenix: Do you like teaching the younger students?

Mr. B.: I intentionally switched from middle school level to work with elementary because I believed that I would be a good elementary teacher. It felt like a risky thing. I figured with my kids being around that age that it just seemed like a good switch.

Plus, the younger you get students, I think the more receptive they are to new information and to capturing new skills. When you get older your brain does a streamline process. I work with a very supportive staff. I work with a great bunch of kids. I've been treated very well here.

Reprinted from The COVID Chronicle, a newspaper started by students in Nancy Nickerson's fourth grade class at Capt. Albert W. Stevens School about what it is like to attend school during the pandemic.