Music has always served to help us through tough times, but during the pandemic, musicians have had to get creative to stay safe while keeping the music going, especially in music schools. Indiana University’s Tom Walsh, professor of saxophone and chair of the Jazz Studies Department at the Jacobs School of Music, spent much of the summer preparing to accommodate safety and health precautions during the fall semester. His special challenge was, what kind of mask could be worn while also playing a wind instrument? With the help of his mother, Julie Walsh, and inspiration from other musicians on social media, Walsh developed a unique mask that allows students to play their instruments while also filtering the air around them. The masks have a long flap over the mouth area and magnets in the bottom of the flaps, so that when students close the flap around the instrument, it stays shut off from outside air. Walsh says the magnets make it easier for the musician to quickly close the flap with one hand while holding the instrument in the other. The masks demonstrate that music schools can implement successful measures to mitigate against the virus and allow in-person instruction, according to Walsh. It's important to address health and safety and to use the available research as intelligently as possible, he says. Walsh and his mother have created a website called Wind Instrument Masks and Bell Covers that shares instructions on how to make the special masks.
In other news, with Election Day only a few weeks away, many of us are wondering will our votes be counted and secure in 2020? IU President Michael McRobbie, co-author of a National Academies report on the Future of Voting, recently discussed the integrity and security of the upcoming presidential election. According to McRobbie, steps can be taken to safeguard and improve our elections. In this pandemic year, voting by mail offers the safest way to participate in our elections, he says. Absentee voting has largely been proven to work, and the convenience and safety of voting by mail might also lead to increased voter participation. Additionally, extended and expanded vote-by-mail provisions should be accompanied by pandemic-related changes for voting in person, such as physical distancing at the polls, longer periods of early voting, and extending voting hours. McRobbie says we should also use human-readable paper ballots which aren’t subject to faulty software or hardware and can be used to audit, confirm, and verify the results of an election. Federal support is critical for the upgrades our election system needs, and while a federal stimulus bill passed in March included funds to help states address COVID-related challenges to voting, it remains unclear whether funding already allocated and proposed will be enough to shore up our elections during the pandemic, McRobbie says. In the end, adjustments made to the voting process will require state and local election officials to work closely with public health officials so that changes to voting procedures are fact-based, well-documented, and transparent. While the challenges and threats confronting our elections process are urgent, McRobbie says, there is still time to do more to harden our election infrastructure and avoid further erosion of public trust in our system of representative democracy.