Music is meant to be heard by many ears, but with COVID-19 becoming an increasing issue, the WVU Wind Symphony had to say goodbye to in-person crowds. Now, they’re letting limited audiences return.

Jamie Whoolery, director of production and facilities for the College of Creative Arts, said the move back to small audiences would be gradual.

“With our rollout back to a live audience, we are focusing on bringing students back in for that first,” Whoolery said. “It’s important for our students to go be listeners and audience members for live performances.”

Until now, the band has been performing via YouTube Livestream. Woolery said that all of these regulations during the pandemic, and coming out of it, were taken to provide the best music education possible.

“Top priority has been keeping all of our faculty and staff and students safe,” Whoolery said. “And then, moving beyond that basic level, it’s then trying to figure out how do we safely deliver the dedication that they need, so [it’s been] working with band directors to help figure out how can we safely hold rehearsals, what type of cleaning has to be done between commercials and that’s the work I’ve been doing the past year.”

Michael Ibrahim, director of the WVU School of Music, said he felt excited about the move back to traditional audiences.

“I’m most excited to have that real interaction in making music and hearing it live and in the same room,” Ibrahim said. “Music is sound, and sound is the vibration of air. Obviously, through a computer screen and speakers, you can still get a feel for it, but it’s a completely different experience when you’re in the same actual space.”

Ibrahim also said he felt optimistic about the direction events were taking with the pandemic.

“I’m also really excited overall with the direction things are going with the pandemic and our response to it,” Ibrahim said. “It seems clear that there’s a lot of excitement over herd immunity. I hope that we can continue to be compliant with safety measures as they are starting to work something that’s more regular.”

Ibrahim also said the experience of performing without audiences has given the Wind Symphony trouble. Still, it has not been all downsides.

“It’s been incredibly challenging to perform for audiences that are entirely virtual,” Ibrahim said. “You don’t have an audience to feel the energy in the room, the ‘vibe’ in the room if you will. It’s a real challenge and a real shift, but we’ve also learned some things about how to connect with audiences through technology.”

As for the students’ perspective, Haley Smith, second chair French hornist with the WVU Wind Symphony and a junior music student, said the audience experience was about sharing art.

“I like being able to share the music that we’ve been working on with them,” Smith said. “It’s not just us performing our music. It’ll make everyone really excited and excitement always gets us playing better.”

David Riggs, first chair trumpet player with the Wind Symphony and a senior student in trumpet performance, said the lack of audiences has been noticeable.

“Music is sound in time made for the emotional response of an audience,” Riggs said. “So our job, at the end of the day, is at the performance. Having that live audience feedback and… applause afterward, and knowing that we’re sharing an hour with an audience is really great.”

Riggs said that what online performances really lacked was a certain level of intimacy.

“Although it’s hard to see out, you can still get the shiny eyes from some audience members during really intimate moments in the music,” Riggs said.