Ricardo Rivera, a Music Education major with a Vocal Concentration at FGCU, prepared 11 songs in five different languages for his junior recital on February 13th. He paid an accompanist $600, and prepared for a concert culminating his years of music studies. A capacity of 30 people were allowed in the audience, including FGCU students and staff. Rivera’s family was unable to attend due to COVID-19 protocols at The Bower School of Music.
“My family was devastated,” Rivera said. “My mom cried multiple times throughout the summer because she wanted to support me in person during my recital day.”
The Bower School of Music and the Arts is only permitting FGCU students, faculty and staff to attend their events, such as students’ recitals. Students culminating their studies as juniors and seniors in the music programs are unable to share these momentous occasions with their families.
“Imagine spending 4 years in your respective fields researching for a conference, and then not being able to present it at the conference to who you want,” Rivera said. “That is what this is.”
Florida Gulf Coast University distributed their Spring and Summer 2021 COVID-19 Plan at the beginning of the semester. One of the purposes of the plan was for the safety of everyone on campus, which included visitors to the campus.
According to the document, “The foundational priority of Florida Gulf Coast University’s Spring and Summer 2021 COVID-19 Plan will be the health and safety of all students, faculty, staff, vendors, volunteers, and visitors.”
The Bower School of Music believed students’ families were considered to fall under the category of “visitors,” Rivera said. He was planning for his family to attend his performance. Rivera’s family booked hotel rooms in advance to see him perform. On February 8th, the Director of The Bower School of Music and The Arts, Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki, was informed by President Martin that the general public was not permitted to attend events at The Bower School.
“Dr. Biernacki called me and said President Martin told him the general public is not allowed to enter the building for recitals, performances, and ensemble concerts,” Rivera said. “My parents could not come to my recital.”
Dr. Biernacki declined to comment on this, stating in an email that he is unable to provide further information at this time.
Dr. Helen Tintes, a vocal instructor and advisor to students at The Bower School of Music, said she is unaware of the communications between The Bower School of Music and President Martin.
“However, as I understand, the policy was suddenly changed in early February about recital attendance,” said Dr. Tintes. “This is extremely unfortunate, since many students had planned for family and friends to attend their recitals.”
Dr. Tintes said she doesn’t see why the general public is unable to attend performances at The Bower School of Music as places elsewhere are able to hold concerts.
“The Arts are suffering greatly throughout the world in this pandemic,” Tintes said.“I think that concert going should be encouraged, with limited attendance and careful precautions. It works in many other places.”
The Bower School of Music and The Arts says in their general statement regarding their COVID-19 policies: “The Bower School of Music & the Arts is committed to keeping the FGCU community safe. The health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff are the top priority at this time. Not allowing outside guests to attend BSM&A events is the unfortunate outcome of this unprecedented global crisis. We appreciate your cooperation as we strive to keep our campus safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we look forward to welcoming outside guests to the Bower School events in the future.”
Despite this, music students are discouraged that visitors are permitted elsewhere on campus.
Mallory Hornberger, a junior music therapy major, states she believes it’s unfair seeing visitors attend games at Alico Arena when visitors aren’t permitted at The Bower School of Music.
“FGCU’s allowance of outside visitors to attend sporting events is greatly discriminatory against the music program and all the students who compose it,” Hornberger said. “Bower has implemented safe seating/capacity requirements in its auditorium, so the banning of family, who would be following these installed protocols, is not fair.” Ricardo Rivera said, “One of my professors always preaches to us students in the arts, ‘Follow the money trail.’ I think the hypocrisy between allowing 1,000 members of the general public to attend a sporting event but not a mere 2 members (parents) of the public to attend a recital is absurd.”
President Mike Martin said in an email, that comparing the COVID-19 protocols at the music school to other places on campus have missed two major points.
“First, for sports, we have very few fans in a very large space so social distancing very much conforms to CDC guidelines,” President Martin said. “Most other spaces on campus were actually designed to bring people together rather than socially distanced. Second we are operating, even a limited schedule of athletic events, under very restrictive and costly NCAA directives. Applying NCAA protocol more broadly is not feasible.”
President Martin said FGCU works with the State’s Surgeon General as well as medical experts from Lee Health and Naples Community Hospital. The university also receives guidelines from the Board of Governors and the FGCU Board of Trustees in order to establish COVID-19 protocols across campus.
“Our positivity rate is well below the community as a whole. But as you know, we have only used 28% of campus capacity at any one time,” President Martin said. “Social distancing requirements vary with facilities configuration. Thus facilities of different sizes and shapes accommodate different events and numbers.”
FGCU assesses each decision based on its own merits and risks, said President Martin. The COVID-19 response team at FGCU works to monitor the protocols by meeting twice a week.
“Most assuredly, we all wish that normal conditions would allow all students and all families to enjoy the full range of an educational experience at FGCU,” said President Martin. “However, we are making all decisions in full consultation with healthcare experts and consistent with practices common across the State University System.”
Jonathan Little, Communications Supervisor at Lee Health, said Lee Health has been working to consult FGCU on CDC regulations to ensure safe protocol is being met.
“Lee Health consulted with FGCU to help them keep the students and faculty safe during the pandemic,” Little said. “As community leaders, we continue to work together to keep Southwest Florida safe during the pandemic. While we share CDC recommendations with organizations, it is ultimately their choice to choose the guidelines that are best for them.”
Music therapy student, Mallory Hornberger, said the policies restricting outside visitors from attending events at The Bower School of Music seemed unnecessary.
“Considering that the entire point of having limited seats in the first place is to mitigate the spread of COVID, it seemed unnecessary to restrict who can or can’t fill those seats, as long as protocol is being followed—which Bower would be implementing, anyway,” Hornberger said.
“As a voice teacher (and advisor) to students, I am very sad that many of them will not be able to have their close family and friends in attendance at their important recitals,” Dr. Tintes said. “I do not understand why we can’t have a 50 person limit in the recital hall…I think wearing masks and social distancing would be very safe.”
Without being able to perform with their loved ones, students are disheartened. Ricardo Rivera pushed his recital back a semester in hopes of being able to have his family come see him perform, as progress on a vaccine brought him hope.
“When I would think of my recital last semester (when the rule was no audience whatsoever), I debated buying multiple succulents and plants to place in those seats so I could have something “living” in the audience,” Rivera said. “In actuality, my recital was supposed to be last semester; however, I chose to push it back a semester because I wanted to hold on to whatever hope I could that I could have my parents in the audience. I thought maybe the talk of a vaccine would inspire possible policy changes for those that have been vaccinated.”
With such regulations, The Bower School of Music’s Nisita Concert Series was cancelled, according to Dr. Tintes. The Nisita Concert Series are ticketed concerts with regional, national, and internationally known musicians.
The Nisita Concert Series’ lineup this semester included award-winning pianist, Kevin Kenner, and a woodwind quartet with Michael Barron on piano, according to concert information given on the Bower School of Music’s website.