This semester, the Yale Philharmonia — the School of Music’s main orchestral ensemble — will resume in-person rehearsals in a strings and percussion only capacity at Hendrie Hall under precautions designed to minimize public health risks.
All School of Music students have the opportunity to take performance classes remotely, in which case they will not attend rehearsals in person. But since participating in the Philharmonia is a unique and integral part of the School of Music curriculum, University officials sought to provide an in-person option for students.
The School of Music then worked with epidemiologist Krystal Pollitt to design a safe in-person rehearsal plan. Taking into account the School of Music’s building capacity and ventilation systems, Pollitt’s chief guidelines include mask wearing, social distancing, shortening rehearsal time by 45 minutes and restricting the number of people in each room. The Philharmonia followed these regulations last semester and will adhere to slightly modified guidelines over the next few months.
“The policies that we generated here at the School of Music were by and large, a byproduct of what was mandated by the University at large,” Jeffrey Mistri, manager of the Philharmonia, said. “We worked in tandem with Yale Health and Safety.”
Last semester, several spikes in COVID-19 cases across campus resulted in more restrictive guidelines, including decreasing rehearsal room capacity from 33 to 24 people. Without its full orchestra, the Philharmonia canceled recording sessions for its final performance of the semester.
This semester, room capacity remains at 24 musicians and one conductor. Each musician plays at a music stand located at least six feet apart from others, and musicians are encouraged to minimize talking.
Mistri mentioned that while social distancing does not generally interfere with students’ performances, it poses a slight inconvenience when musicians turn their own pages of their music instead of relying on the musician next to them.
“Now people have to stop what they’re doing, say ‘turn the page!’ and then quickly go back to resuming playing,” Mistri said.
Another challenge presented by the socially distant rehearsal format is a change in room acoustics. Mistri said that since students are accustomed to playing close to each other, the six-foot separation between them has forced the musicians to adjust sonically.
“A significant aspect in playing together is being able to sense the physical movement of your colleagues, being able to hear the changes in sound by the instruments around you,” Megan Yip MUS ’21 said. “That literal six-feet distance makes it more difficult to create music in that physically intimate manner, but it still doesn’t take away from what we’ll always do, COVID restrictions or not — and that’s listening.”
The mask mandate, in place to prevent aerosol emission, means that musicians whose instruments bar them from wearing masks — including winds and brass — are not permitted to join these Philharmonia rehearsals.
Since only strings and percussion players can wear masks while playing, the Philharmonia had to be innovative in selecting its repertoire, as they could only include music for string orchestras. This semester, the orchestra’s repertoire includes Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite for strings and percussion and an adaptation of Florence Price’s string quartets for a larger orchestra.
“The Philharmonia is adhering to COVID guidelines by not really being a philharmonia,” Shenae Anderson MUS ’21 said. “We are a chamber orchestra that consists only of strings and percussion.”
“It’s forced us to think creatively,” Mistri said. “It’s enabled us to think outside the box and program things that normally the Philharmonia doesn’t get to do.”
The Philharmonia will release four recorded performances this semester.
Marisol Carty | firstname.lastname@example.org