In the News

Kathy Davis on the flute with MSO.

In the bag: Manchester Symphony Orchestra fights COVID with masks, instrument covers, partitions

March 14 concert is ‘Beethoven’s Belated Birthday Bash’

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Manchester Symphony Orchestra has found creative solutions to stage concerts.

Its third performance of the season, “Beethoven’s Belated Birthday Bash,” is at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 14 in Cordier Auditorium on the North Manchester campus of Manchester University.

General admission is $15. It is free for Manchester students, faculty and staff, and anyone younger than 18. Masks and social distancing are required. 

The orchestra presented two strings-only concerts earlier in the season, which meant fewer musicians were onstage, and that allowed for social distancing. Wind instruments pose additional challenges because players expel air to produce notes and keyholes can leak air.

This spring semester, the symphony received a grant of about $12,000 from the state of Indiana that made it possible to bring back the brass, woodwind and percussion sections for the final two concerts of the season.

The money was used to buy special masks for all wind players, bell covers for the brass instruments, and instrument bags for woodwinds that are specifically designed to minimize the spread of any virus-laden aerosols that could be produced while the instruments are in use. 

“Being able to use these funds to bring our full orchestra back together really is a triumph for the arts against COVID-19,” said MU Professor Debra Lynn, symphony conductor.

The masks, bell covers and bags have not come without issues. Kathy Davis, associate professor of chemistry at MU and principal flutist, says she has struggled a bit with the flute bag and trapezoid-shaped mask.

“The bag over the flute causes extra clumsiness, and I am no longer able to put my flute down fully during rests where I normally would. The mask also keeps collapsing against my face, making it difficult to play at times,” she said. “However, ultimately I am so happy to be playing again that all of the challenges are small in comparison.”

Luckily, Plexiglass partitions are coming to the rescue. The University event technology director came up with a way to enclose each woodwind and brass player to limit the spread of aerosols that might carry the COVID-19 virus.

“The bags pose a lot of problems for bassoon players, like getting caught on wires, and the Plexiglass barriers are so much nicer to play in,” said Kendall Brown, a junior at MU who plays the bassoon. One of the newest members of the symphony, Brown is from Tecumseh, Mich. He said it is quite difficult to hear well with the barriers, “so it is a challenge we have to overcome.”

The March 14th concert will include two works by Ludwig van Beethoven, a nod to the concert in his honor that was shut down by COVID late last year. The belated 250th birthday bash features a composition by Korngold, “Theme and Variations,” and the “Bacchanale” dance from Saint-Saëns’s opera, Samson and Dalilah.” 

This is Lynn’s first season as symphony conductor. After 12 years, Assistant Professor Scott Humphries, director of bands and music education, passed the baton to Lynn while he concentrated on establishing the Spartan Pride Marching Band at MU. With Lynn on sabbatical in the fall, MU music instructor Robert Lynn conducted the first two performances of the season.

For the media

Jennifer Wagner, student assistant in the Office of Strategic Communications, prepared this information and took the photographs at a rehearsal.

Debra Lynn can be reached at
Music at Manchester

Fast facts
Dr. Debra Lynn will conduct her oratorio, A Family Portrait, at Carnegie Hall on Memorial Day in 2022.  
• With about 6,000 residents, North Manchester is one the smallest communities in the nation with its own symphony orchestra. Residents of Wabash County and what was then Manchester College founded the symphony in 1939. That partnership continues today with a carefully crafted collaboration of professional and community musicians, as well as selected faculty, staff and student musicians.

March 2021