Muscatine school choirs seek volunteer mask sewers

Associate Director of Choral Activities Teale Burford modeling a singing mask.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–As teachers begin the task of preparing to welcome students as safely as they can, choir teachers at both Muscatine High School and Susan Clark Junior High School face an additional challenge, how to sing without spreading respiratory droplets. While most classes can mitigate this risk though having students wear standard non-medical masks when they cannot social distance, choirs cannot. As Associate Director of Choral Activities Teale Burford explained: “when singing, we need to be able to breathe efficiently and articulate clearly. This wasn’t going to be achievable with regular masks–we needed the singer’s mask.”

Singing masks differ in several ways from typical masks, both in how they contain respiratory droplets and how they allow sound to resonate. Burford elaborated, “the singer’s mask sits away from the nose and mouth–it rests on the bridge of the nose and wraps around the sides of the head and under the chin, giving full coverage of the face in order to largely contain aerosols emitted during speaking and singing.” She added, “The pocket of space creates a small resonance chamber for your sound, allowing it to resonate in the air outside your body, resulting in a clearer and more projected sound.”

While organizations sell specialized singing masks, they cost about $20 a piece, making it prohibitively expensive for the district to purchase them for each of their students and provide them for free. However, a pattern and several videos created by professional singer Joan Fearnley gave Burford, a sewer, an idea. “I realized I was able to do this and I knew I wasn’t the only one with these skills–we could make these for our students for thousands less!”

Burford contacted Neal’s Sewing and Vacuum in Downtown Muscatine. An employee there helped her make her initial purchase of materials at cost, and even bought and donated a bolt of fabric and 10 yards of elastic to help the cause. “This is extremely generous and shows that this business has the best interests of their community in mind,” shared Burford. Red Barn Kennel donated an additional $100 to assist in purchasing fabric. Burford applied for a Community Continuity Grant to help pay for additional supplies needed, which include metal nose pieces, zip ties, interfacing, elastic, thread, name labels, and hooks for students to store their masks on. The Salvation Army of Muscatine County has also expressed interest in helping the choirs obtain some of these materials.

Altogether, Muscatine Community School District will need 405 singing masks for their junior high and high school students. Using the materials purchased and donated, Burford will assemble kits for making purple junior high school masks and black high school masks. Interested volunteers can request kits, complete them, and then return them for the schools to distribute. Burford needs volunteers willing to cut out patterns and assemble kits, pick up and drop off materials to sewing volunteers, and of course, sewers to put the masks together. Additionally, Burford will accept donations of regular non-medical masks for her students to use outside of her class. If you would like to volunteer, please email Burford at [email protected]. Though Burford would like as many masks as possible by the first day of school, Aug. 24, she will continue to accept them through Aug. 31 to give sewers enough time to complete them.