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Schools Work Around The Pandemic To Provide Holiday Concerts


This is the time of year when many parents crowd into schools for a school holiday concert, which is obviously not happening in most schools in 2020. So schools are adapting. Here's Peter Medlin of our member station WNIJ in DeKalb, Ill.

PETER MEDLIN, BYLINE: A chorus of kids belted out holiday favorites. Parents packed in an old stuffy gymnasium, jostling for shaky camera position to get the perfect Facebook video of their child in their elf costume in the holiday concert. Not so much this year. Instead, some schools are getting creative in an effort to deliver some desperately needed holiday cheer. Mary Beth Cunat is the principal at Spectrum, a small private school in Rockford, Ill. Today, they're filming "The Innovative Elves," a holiday show-slash-music video. She says this year there will be no sneaking out the back door after your kid's song ends.

MARY BETH CUNAT: In this, they're going to get a nice close-up shot. Every kid's going to get to be seen on the video multiple times. And they can share it with many family members.

MEDLIN: Like thousands of music teachers across the country, Sue Puetz has spent most of her time trying to teach remotely from her basement. But right now she's here with her students sporting a Santa Claus face mask and making this video. It'll be the only time most of her students will be together this fall. Puetz herds class after class into the camera shot while trying to keep students spread out.

SUE PUETZ: Otis. Look that way.


PUETZ: Don't move your circle, Evan.

MEDLIN: Colorful circles dot the ground where each student performs six feet away from the others.

LUNA: (Singing) I'm a groovin' elf.

MEDLIN: Kindergartner Luna practices her class' song as they're getting ready. And on Sue's mark - action.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Singing) I'm a groovin' elf. I don't like the shelf.

MEDLIN: For the families who chose to learn remotely this fall, their kids are going to be recording themselves dancing at home and will be spliced into the final show with everyone else. Workarounds like this are happening everywhere. Mackie Spradley heads the National Association for Music Educators, which provides training for music teachers. And although the pandemic presents significant challenges for all educators, music instruction is particularly difficult.

MACKIE SPRADLEY: We're the ones that always want to be shoulder to shoulder to do things and celebrate. So it's been difficult. The students have missed it because they want to perform together, but also the teachers.

MEDLIN: Spotty Wi-Fi make Zoom band practices really tough and sometimes confusing. But it goes beyond that. The pandemic continues to highlight inequities in education - students without Internet access in schools that can't afford instruments, tuba students stuck with no tuba. That means pivoting to something else, like providing software so students can create their own beats and rhythms and, like this school, finding new ways to perform for an audience staying at home. Felix is a fourth-grader here who plays the alto sax.

FELIX: It's a little crazy. But, I mean, at least I get to see all my friends and play my instrument. I just have to wear a mask.

MEDLIN: Felix and his classmates are now lined up to record the show's grand finale, a parade.

UNIDENTIFIED EDUCATOR: The camera is going to be right here.


UNIDENTIFIED EDUCATOR: If you want to wave in the camera, it's OK. You can do that.




MEDLIN: Soon, Sue Puetz says, the video will be posted online so families can make popcorn and watch it from the comfort of their own couches. And grandma can watch the same exact show without someone standing in front of her trying to take a video of their kid performing.

For NPR News, I'm Peter Medlin.


Peter Medlin
Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.