This school year has been unlike any in the past, and due to the aerosol nature of COVID-19, music teachers have faced many challenges. Both singing and playing instruments produce more aerosols, and the aerosols travel much farther than when talking. Just as many people have pivoted during this pandemic, so did the elementary music classroom.
One of the main curricular activities in 4th grade music at Carrie Lee Elementary is playing the recorder; some might even call it a rite of passage. However, due to the nature of the instrument, it wasn’t safe to play indoors without a protective element. To help curb aerosol distribution, music companies were creating bell and mouth covers for many band instruments. Yet, there wasn’t a product specifically designed for recorders.
Carrie Lee’s Elementary music teacher, Sarah Zbornik, contacted a community member who has the knowledge and skills to create what was needed. Mike Ellingsen, a retired public school music teacher from Minnesota who had recently moved to Decorah, is both a skilled recorder player and avid quilter with a specialty in pattern design. Through several Zoom meetings, Ms. Zbornik and Mr. Ellingsen discussed what was needed for safety while allowing students to create a sound and play the instrument correctly.
Mr. Ellingsen created a design and prototype for the Recorder Safety Bag. It was an intricate design and so needed seasoned sewers to create the bags. Members of the Winneshiek County Seamsters Union, organized by Shirley Vermace, cut and sewed 120 recorder bags: one for each fourth grade student. With Vermace, Jeri Laursen, Marcy Erickson, Maureen Antoine Stockman, Laurel Womeldorf, and Bonnie Rinken sewed the bags with materials donated by Mike Ellingsen.
The Carrie Lee students started using the Recorder Safety Bags at the beginning of December. The Decorah Community School District Music Department and the Carrie Lee fourth graders thank the many helpers who made it possible to play music during these challenging times.