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FDSH choirs don ‘singers masks’

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Fort Dodge Senior High a capella chior student Madison Vinchattle wears a specially-designed singers’ mask during class on Thursday. The mask allows the singer to widely open his or her mouth and better project while singing.

No, those aren’t ducks on stage at the next Fort Dodge Senior High a cappellaCQconcert — they’re students, they just kind of look like ducks.

To help choir students avoid spreading the novel coronavirus, while still allowing them to sing mostly unhindered, the Fort Dodge Community School District purchased specially-designed singers’ masks for its vocal music students.

“These masks are an extremely important tool for our singers because they allow us to sing, as authentically as possible, while still maintaining the safety of ourselves and those around us,” said Matt Drees, FDSH vocal music director.

The masks have structural features that are specifically designed for ease of singing, such as a rigid piece of plastic across the front that keeps the mask away from the face and a strong metal wire across the top that can be formed to each specific face.

“These features allow the singer to breathe deeply without inhaling the fabric and to fully open their mouth without the mask moving down their face,” Drees said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Fort Dodge Senior High a capella choir students Cole Hamlow, Joey Kelley and Brett Thompson, wear the special singers’ masks the school district purchased for vocal music students during a rehearsal on Thursday morning.

The district purchased 400 singers’ masks so each choir participant in middle school and high school would have one. In total, the district spent approximately $8,000. The school district also purchased bell covers for the middle school and high school bands.

Drees said he first learned of the singers’ masks through a webinar produced by the American Choral Director’s Association in May. He said “an extremely comprehensive and innovative study” is currently being run at the University of Colorado – Boulder.

“The study mapped with great detail the exact amount of invisible particle spread, both in quantity and distance, from a large number of sources,” including singing, speaking and playing various instruments, Drees said.

The purpose of the study was to find out exactly what happens to the invisible particles from each source and which mitigation strategy may be most effective in reducing the particle speed.

“The study confirmed that singing produces more invisible particles than both speaking and breathing, but wearing a well-fit mask dramatically reduced the spread, both in quantity and distance, of invisible aerosol particles,” Drees said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert Fort Dodge Senior High a capella choir students warm up at the start of class on Thursday. The students wear masks and stand further apart due to COVID-19.

Just a few weeks into the school year, the students themselves are still getting used to the new masks.

“They definitely aren’t the most attractive or comfortable masks to wear, but I am really glad that we can still sing together and be part of choir,” said senior Madison Vinchattle.

Senior Joey Kelley “absolutely” feels like the masks are keeping him and his friends safe while in choir rehearsal.

“I feel like it definitely keeps us safer when singing compared to my other masks, and I feel like it is much easier to really sing using this mask,” Kelley said.

Drees said the biggest bump in the road with the masks has been that the students are in charge of laundering their own masks and remembering to bring them to class.

The masks have been given the affectionate nickname of “duck masks” since they stick out from the face like a duck bill, Drees said.

“Obviously, they look silly,” he said. “There’s no hiding that. And when you are dealing with teenagers, that can be a challenging hurdle. We have really just tried to keep the focus on the safety and the improved function that they can provide.”

Drees said he has noticed a positive difference in the quality of sound from his students since they began to use the masks.

“Wearing these masks is probably something that these students will never forget,” he said. “Making music together and creating memories are both hallmarks of the school choir experience. This year has both of them, and these masks are helping us do both.”

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