5:20:47 photosfor11-11-2021paper

The Otis A. Singletary Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

UK’s College of Fine Arts announced Tuesday that students will no longer need to wear masks while performing and physically distanced.

In an email to College of Fine Arts faculty, staff and students, Mark Shanda, the college’s dean, explained that performers must still wear masks offstage and when entering a performance space. When actively singing, playing an instrument, performing a solo or conducting an ensemble, however, performers can remove their masks. Performers are not required to remove their masks, and audience members must remain masked.

“I think it is safe to say that all ensemble directors have been looking forward to being able to have musicians perform without masks,” Shanda said.

Dalton Stanland, a sophomore majoring in saxophone performance, said playing an instrument without a mask is easier than playing with one. Currently, the College of Fine Arts distributes “playing masks” with closeable holes that allow students to blow into reeds and mouthpieces.

“Usually, we have to put our mouthpiece through the hole, and sometimes that can be weird for woodwind players because the rubber parts can mess up the fibers of our reed,” Stanland explained. “Pulling [a mask] down and putting a mouthpiece in is easier than fitting it through the hole.”

Director of choral music Jefferson Johnson submitted the request for this mask policy exception to UK Health Corps on Nov. 3, and the request was granted on Nov. 8. UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said the request was approved “as part of our commitment to continuing to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our campus and those who visit us.”

Blanton said the change is not unprecedented, as the university continues to examine such requests on a case-by-case basis.

“I think this is consistent with what you are seeing in other places and with other modifications we have made over time, as we monitor the virus and work with units, departments and colleges on needs or questions specific to those areas,” Blanton said.

According to the email, the request was granted “based on the anticipated compliance by all and considering the campus vaccination rate of 88.3% as of November 3.” The email also said that as of Nov. 5, all College of Fine Arts faculty and staff were in compliance with UK’s vaccination and testing policies.

“I am pleased that the success of the campus testing [and] vaccination protocol has made a greater return to a more normal concert [and] performance experience possible for our student performers and our audiences,” Shanda said.

Richard Smith, a freshman majoring in music performance and education, said the college “must have had good reason” for changing the policy.

“I guess the vaccination rate is high enough on campus that it should be fine,” Smith said. “As long as everyone’s being safe about it, there’s not much I can do. I just go with the flow, I guess.” 

The request was made in anticipation of the upcoming Collage concert, scheduled for Dec. 4-6. 

“Collage is a beloved holiday tradition for our community, and we are thrilled to welcome audiences back in person this December,” said Jennifer Sciantarelli, the communications director of the College of Fine Arts.

Collage, described as a “Holiday Spectacular” on the College of Fine Arts website, is an annual holiday concert that features vocalists and musicians from the UK School of Music, the Lexington Singers Children’s Choir, local high school choirs and a community handbell choir.

“Because Collage involves non-UK performers, we had to check in to see what was possible,” Shanda said. “I would assume all concerts moving forward will take advantage of these granted exceptions.”

Shanda predicted that these modifications will continue to be applied to College of Fine Arts performances. Smith, who plays viola and guitar, said he likes keeping his mask on when performing, but he also hopes mask policies will continue to loosen.

“I hope this is the beginning of the end, and we can finally get out of this situation,” Smith said. “I went to a jazz concert, and it was the first concert where they didn't have their masks on, and they seemed to be having fun.”

Stanland agreed, predicting that this easing of restrictions will spread. 

“I feel like most colleges will probably continue to make it to where [students] can pull [their masks] down,” he said.

However, Blanton said he does not anticipate a large-scale change in UK’s mask policy.

“We are, of course, continuing to evaluate and monitor all of our policies and the trajectory of the virus, both here and in Kentucky, as well as across the country and globally,” Blanton said. “But there are no major modifications planned at this time.”