Student Journalism at San Rafael High School

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

How Covid-19 Hurt the Music Department


Students and staff members start the new academic school year ready to embark on another chapter of high school. At the same time, it marks another year away from a deadly pandemic that changed school classrooms throughout the globe. 

COVID-19 affected the relationship between students and classrooms. At San Rafael High School in particular, music classes were hit especially hard.

“The desire to like branch out and do stuff and nobody had the energy to do that and music kind of requires that,” says Mr. Gordon, one of the music teachers at SRHS. 

At the present moment, the music program is at its strongest since the pandemic started. Across all music classes offered at SRHS, student membership increased. For instance, the orchestra class alone has risen up from 9 students during the pandemic to a stronger 21 students. 

Yet, on the eve of the pandemic, schools were being shut down and music programs began being  relegated to online Zoom classes. At SRHS, sign-ups reached a record low, according to Mr. Burdick, music director at SRHS. For many students, it was difficult to participate in a music class and be a part of a community while being sequestered in their homes. It was harder for students and teachers to grow as musicians under these circumstances. 

“We were doing things online and that wasn’t a lot of fun,” says Mr. Burdick. “Nobody could play together […] and as a result our numbers were just really low.” 

Even after the tragedy of longtime SRHS music teacher Sean Castle passing away, students benefited from returning to the school building. The grip of online classes was now gone for the music programs. The positive was that students now felt more connected with one musician to another, even with the mask mandate, which the school strictly followed. 

“Everyone was so tired […] it was harder to have the energy when everyone was so messed up and worried and anxious,” says Mr. Gordon. 

Despite the difficulties, all the music classes saw a slight increase in membership. The music department adapted to the mask mandates and new social norms. But COVID-19 was still lingering and it profoundly affected many events that the music programs could have held. 

The 2022-2023 school year was a better year for the music programs. Wearing masks now became optional as the threat of COVID-19 slowly dissipated. The music department now had more freedom into scheduling events and expanding their reach. A jazz band performance held on the quad at SRHS on March 10, 2023, demonstrated this. 

“It’s trending upwards,” says Mr. Gordon. “It’s not back to where it was but it’s moving in the right direction.”

The rise of student enrollment in the music programs is a positive sign. Being indulged in music and coordinating with others is highly beneficial for the brain. Mrs. Pikkarainen, a chemistry teacher at SRHS who plays the oboe, says, “I think it’s amazing for brains to be learning music and to be playing music […] it’s so good to be thinking in music”.

There are many staff members at school who are in favor of encouraging more student membership in the music programs. Christy Novack is a newcomer to the district who is the director of technology at SRHS. She has a deep love for music as she is in two separate bands for which she plays the saxophone, clarinet, and sings.

When asked about why students should play instruments, Mrs. Novack says, “Music evokes emotions […] it was a way for me to be able to get in touch with my emotions.”

Former students who enrolled in the music program have said positive things about it. Samuel Luong, a senior at SRHS, had to drop Orchestra due to the demanding course load he is taking. However, he said, “It isn’t a really demanding program. Even if you don’t play an instrument or are necessarily proficient, you’d still be accepted to this program. This program was really fun because you get to exercise your creativity and your skills to audiences.”

The music program still faces ongoing challenges. The choir for instance had been wiped from this year’s academic school year. This was a heavy blow to the music department which they plan to correct in the coming years.

The pandemic had left its infectious scar onto the music programs. But the trend has shown that the music programs are entering a revival. More is being done to get more students enrolled in the programs. One initiative includes reaching out and promoting music towards students in Davidson Middle School and elementaries schools across San Rafael. 

“It’s just a matter of building relationships with students and trying to give them a chance to use their brains to learn something valuable,” says Mr. Burdick. 

The leaders of the music department are also hoping to have students playing in concerts and conducting events throughout the city to persuade and inspire future students to join the programs. During difficult times, the music department has shown immense resilience. 


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