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Special masks help ensure COVID won’t stop the music at CCHS

  • Mandi Neve rehearses through her specially-designed mask for singing last week at Charles City High School. (Photo submitted.)

  • Reign Vallebo rehearses through her specially-designed mask for singing last week at Charles City High School. (Photo submitted.)

  • Cade Williams rehearses through his specially-designed mask for singing last week at Charles City High School. (Photo submitted.)

  • Janiece Bergland shows off one of the specially-designed masks she helped make for singing last week at Charles City High School. (Photo submitted.)

By James Grob,

Charles City High School vocal music director Derek Sturtevant was going to be teaching students to sing this year, come hell or high water.

“We will not let COVID take our music from us,” Sturtevant insisted.

With a little bit of help from some local stitchers — who are also big music fans — the music lives in Charles City. The students are singing through specially designed masks.

With the coronavirus pandemic, belting out tunes is not considered the best idea. Raised vocal chords can send the virus hurtling well beyond the suggested 6-foot social distance. However, as any singer will tell you, it’s difficult to sound good with a mask pressed against your mouth.

Sturtevant said that COVID-19 guidance from the Iowa High School Music Association calls for students to keep a 6-foot distance and wear a mask whenever they sing. The special masks came about as a way for students to sing more effectively and safely in choir.

“All of our students will wear a specially-designed singer’s mask when they sing and choir rehearsals are being held in the Comet competition gym in order to properly space students out,” he said.

Sturtevant said he first learned about the singer’s masks from the Iowa Choral Directors Association Facebook page. A pattern was posted and he took that to his grandmother, Sharon Knoup, who lives in Pearl City, Illinois. Knoup created a template for the others to go by.

The masks are ribbed to be held away from the face and allow singers to breathe in more effectively and allow for more resonant space in front of the mouth.

“The design of the mask is in three pieces, with a smaller yoke on the top which contains a bendable metal piece to fit snugly over the nose bridge,” said Janiece Bergland, one of the sewers and a former music teacher herself. “The middle part is extra long so that it allows for movement of the mouth and comes beyond the cheeks and near the ears.”

Bergland said the main piece is held away from the mouth with plastic boning on the top and bottom, giving it rigidity and structure. The bottom yoke is larger and fits well back under the chin.

“I have experimented singing with this mask and it allows for opening the mouth widely and does little to diminish the volume,” Bergland said. “What could be considered an advantage is it causes the singer to really hear themselves and focus on their pitch.”

The other creators included Susan Jacob, Linda Hughes, Linda Brant and Linda Wolf. Jacob and Hughes cut out the material and distributed it to sewers Brant, Wolf and Bergland. Materials were donated by Stitches in Charles City and Yellow Creek Quilt Designs in Pearl City.

“We currently have just over 100 masks that are used daily,” Sturtevant said. “After each student uses them, they are washed daily by students as part of a life skills program.”

Bergland said the construction was a bit complicated, but after making a few masks, she was able to get the hang of it.

“After the first 10, I had a system down, streamlining some of the techniques,” Bergland said. “We were all glad to help out the vocal music groups and make the best of a daunting situation.”

On top of the several masks the stitchers made for the students, Bergland made one for Sturtevant in a slightly different pattern.

“We are so thankful to these ladies for allowing us to make music safely and effectively,” Sturtevant said.