Vermont group tailors unique masks for high school band

Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 1:33 PM EST
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SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The band at White River Valley Union High School in Bethel is preparing for its first concert in about a year. During the pandemic, high school bands in Vermont are only allowed to play outdoors, but as Scott Fleishman reports, they also have some unique requirements for their instruments.

“We have a routine at this point, everyone knows what we need to do. It’s gotten a bit less clunky in terms of figuring out all the new precautions,” said Ryan Smith, a student band member.

Part of those precautions -- masks both for the instrument and for the musician playing them. But for flutists like senior Chelsie Trask, playing with a mask has limitations. “It was difficult because there wasn’t any room to put the flute in order to play,” she said.

Music director Joshua Pauley noticed the issue with Trask and his other students, so he reached out to the Upper Valley Mask Makers. “He said, 'I want it when they’re sitting, there not playing, that they’re not fumbling with the mask to put it on, that they can just close it up,” said Mary Beth Stocken, who helped start the mask makers group when the pandemic began. They made thousands of masks for hospitals and medical facilities in the area.

Stocken specializes in making different size masks, including ones for small children. She watched Youtube videos of flutists struggling to play while wearing a mask. “And I couldn’t find a pattern for it, so I made one that was basically, two rectangular masks that overlap and the flute goes in the side,” Stocken said.

“I was blown away. She had multiple versions for different sizes. It just went above and beyond to make sure that we had everything we needed to be as safe as possible,” Pauley said.

Trask tested out the flute mask prototype. “I realized it was going to be very beneficial for all of us to be able to use them,” she said.

Stocken used some of that ingenuity to design masks for the woodwinds and brass players. “I wanted to make something that would work. I just regret that I couldn’t find the fabric in school colors,” she said.

Just before the band held its Veterans Day concert on the town square, the students were able to meet their creative mask maker.

“I wanted you to be able to meet face-to-face Mary Beth, who sewed all the masks for you. Let’s give a nice round of applause for Mary Beth,” Pauley said at the concert.

“They looked so good and they sounded so good. I’m so happy that they’re able to play. It warms my heart,” Stocken said.

“It’s really nice that she did it out of her own generosity,” Trask said.

“Just all being around here and even being able to play with all this going on, is quite something,” Smith said.

Even our masks are adjusting to make sure everyone can fit into this challenging time.

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