Kent State works to keep music students safe in practice rooms

A close-up of a piano in a practice room in the CPA (Center for Performing Arts). 

The Kent State School of Music put together a new system of operation for practice room usage during the pandemic in just a week and a half. The unprecedented circumstances forced staff to figure out what the risks were and how to fix them to ensure students’ safety.

“In the past, we used to put it all on paper, and students would come to the music office and actually sign up for times they wanted to use practice rooms,” said Andrew Paa, marketing assistant for the Glauser School of Music and Kent Blossom Music Festival. “When we realized that gathering in person wasn’t something we could do and we couldn’t safely accommodate a line of people coming into the office, we basically had a week and a half to put together an electronic system.”

Students who want to use practice rooms on campus are split into groups of 10-13 people per room. Once they find out their groups, they must work together to determine time slots that work for each student and schedule their booking online. The online booking helps the university conduct contact tracing should anyone contract COVID-19.

“One of the really important things that we’ve discovered is that the air exchange rate is really vital,” said Kent McWilliams, director and professor of music for the School of Music. “What we’ve done in the scheduling software is left a 30-minute break, so once one person is done, then automatically a 30-minute break begins before the next person can come in. We also got numbers of how quickly that air exchange happens, and in approximately five minutes there is a full air exchange, but we leave it at 30 to be fully safe.”

Most music students still meet for classes in-person, so further precautions had to be taken for when practice rooms aren’t in use.

“The other big thing that we’ve done is lock the practice rooms to keep everyone safe. All of us like to go in and hack on a piano, but we don’t allow that anymore because it’s just not safe enough,” McWilliams said. “The custodial staff here is extraordinary; we are really spoiled. They do a wonderful job of cleaning more than daily. We also have the students sanitize before they go in and then they spray down the surfaces that they are going to touch to make sure that they are void of the virus. Once it’s time to leave, students spray and wipe down every area they have touched.”

Kent State has followed research and recommendations from the National Association of Schools of Music to further protect students. Though there have been many precautions taken, the School of Music has had to get quite creative.

“We put in an order for thousands of puppy pads because a lot of the instruments have condensation that develops, and then you have little valves where it comes out,” McWilliams said. “Normally that just comes out on the floor, but that’s not healthy. We have purchased these pads for students to put below them every time they play so that their condensation is no longer spewed out on to the floor. Instead, the puppy pad absorbs it all with no mess. That helps to mitigate the virus spread a little more.”

Prioritizing students’ safety, using contact tracing and slowing the spread of the virus has allowed the School of Music’s practice room users to go without a single case of COVID-19 since the start of the fall 2020.

Lindsey Vlasic covers entertainment and the arts. Contact her at [email protected].