Opinion | The University of Iowa School of Music sets a standard for others

The phenomenal educational experience I received during COVID-19 is why the UI music program stands out.


Abigail McDaniel

The Voxman Music Building is seen on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Editor

The first COVID-19 test I took wasn’t provided by a medical institution or pharmacy but instead by the University of Iowa School of Music.

Recently, the School of Music partnered with molecular geneticist Dr. Val Sheffield to develop a program for students to take a weekly COVID-19 saliva test to monitor student safety.

This is just one example of how the UI’s music program has provided an exemplary education for students and music for the Iowa City community despite COVID-19’s challenges.

The arts — especially college programs and student musicians — have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, a hundred students would pack into a practice room side by side, and most would be blowing air threw an instrument. A perfect environment for virus spread.

But the UI School of Music’s planning and dedication to its students has allowed us to play our instruments and stay healthy.

School of Music Director Dr. Tammie Walker says that student and faculty safety and educational impact were the guiding principles that led planning for the fall semester.

“The two guiding principles from the very beginning were safety,” Walker said. “The second was educational impact. How are we doing this as successfully as we can, and what changes and adjustments can we make so it is a better pedagogical experience for students.”

Walker emphasizes that the school was able to achieve its goals based on these principles because of the dedication and effort of researchers.

“All of the decisions that were made in the School of Music was based on from a team of medical doctors and bio-aerosol scientists and engineers,” Walker said. “We had a large team of people who agreed to come together and work towards that common goal of making Voxman as safe as possible before August.”

As the fall semester approached, the School of Music launched a COVID-19 policy page for students and the community. As I read through the policies — including the safe usage of practice rooms and socially distanced rehearsals — I let out a sigh of relief.

But I wasn’t the only one impressed with the School of Music’s plan. The page broke the record for the most viewed webpage in the School of Music’s history, and the school set an example for institutions nationwide.

“There were a lot of institutions this summer and especially late summer and early fall that reached out to us here at Iowa just having heard the science behind the decisions that were made,” Walker said. “We have shared everything that we learned with anyone that asked. The feedback nationwide from our peers has exceeded our expectations.”

The most important policies that the school created for me was for practice rooms and orchestra rehearsals.

I was not only grateful for having a place to practice but also the fact I was able to do it safely. For string musician practice rooms, we are required to wear masks at all times and mark the time when we used the room. These two practices were put in place to limit the spread of germs and help with contact tracing.

Many of my friends from other schools did without orchestra rehearsal, but the UI School of Music found a way to safely rehearse.

Our larger orchestra split up into three smaller groups, and rehearsals were limited to 30 minutes to allow time for air scrubbing in the rehearsal room. Professors expected us to wipe down our own chair and stand, and the school set up the room with an assigned a square to maintain social distancing.

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to play, and that we were able to provide music to the Iowa City community when they need it the most. Our pre-recorded performances stream online, which is the second most viewed webpage in the School of Music’s history.

While COVID-19 is unpredictable, the educational experience I received last semester gives me confidence in UI’s music program to continue to plan what’s best for students for an uncertain future.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.