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Jennifer Lasley hopes the project helps her students feel connected

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FARMINGTON — Performing music certainly isn't the kind of pursuit that thrives under social distancing circumstances. But a Farmington music teacher is hoping an event she has planned for her students on April 10 helps them bridge that gulf emotionally, if not physically.

Jennifer Lasley, the director of bands at Tibbetts Middle School, has organized a citywide performance of the tune "Morning Mood" at 10 a.m. April 10. She is asking the approximately 300 music students in the Farmington Municipal School District — and any other musician who wants to take part, for that matter — to step outside and, while maintaining appropriate social distance standards, perform the song two or three times.

The idea, she said, is to see how many of the participants can hear someone else playing, perhaps generating somewhat of a call-and-response atmosphere.

Lasley said she began kicking around the idea earlier this month when it was announced school campuses would remain closed for the remainder of the semester, leading to the cancellation of the concerts that her students had been preparing to play. That left Lasley with somewhat of an empty feeling.

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"I miss my kids," she said. "I miss being in class with them."

Even with the COVID-19 shutdown in place, Lasley said she sees 15 to 20 of her students on a regular basis wandering through her neighborhood. That set her to thinking about how she could organize some kind of mass performance that wouldn't put anyone's health at risk.

"I thought, 'There's got to be a way we can feel connected and not be together,'" she said.

Lasley settled on a plan to have everyone play the song "Morning Mood," a piece by composer Edvard Grieg that Lasley believed was simple and accessible enough for students of virtually all abilities to play. She also likes its warm, peaceful tone and considers it an appropriate choice for a time in which many people are feeling a lack of connection to each other.

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So she tried what she called a sound check. She arranged for one of her former trombone students who lives three blocks a way to step out into his front yard and play his instrument for her while she played her clarinet. To their delight, they realized they could hear each other clearly.

"I said, 'This is plausible. This might be a way for us to feel connected,'" she said.

Lasley sent an email outlining her plan to various band directors all around the Farmington area, asking them to encourage their students to take part. One of those music instructors who loved the idea was San Juan College music professor Teun Fetz, who forwarded the email to his students.

"Everyone feels so cooped up inside," Fetz said, explaining why the idea appealed to him. "As musicians, a lot of us are extroverts, and we feel a need to express ourselves."

With those traditional performing opportunities squelched during the shutdown, Fetz believes Lasley's plan is a good way to get musicians back in the groove — and maybe lift everyone else's spirits while they're at it.

"I'm all for anything that makes people feel better," he said.

Fetz said he forwarded the email to 55 or 60 of his students and hadn't received a lot of responses by April 8, but he said the lack of face-to-face interaction with them can make regular communication a challenge these days. He hopes to hear that a good percentage of his students have responded to Lasley's plan.

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"It might be helpful for them to do something like this that's a healthy outlet," he said.

Fetz said he regretted that he wouldn't be able to participate himself. He's a drummer and percussionist, so there is no role for him in this performance of "Morning Mood" without a melodic instrument. But he said his family will be well represented in the effort, as his wife Katie will be playing her clarinet and his son Jackson will be playing his trumpet.

Lasley isn't sure how many of her district's students will take part, and she goes back and forth between feeling great enthusiasm for the project and fretting that it will be a bust. But she's guessing that many of her students are feeling the same way she is — bored with surfing the Internet and streaming video content all day — and that they might be open to focusing on a team-oriented project again instead of absorbing a steady diet of bad news.

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"Just giving the kids a few minutes to take our minds of things," is how she described her wish for the project.

She also is more than a little unsure of how to measure the success of the endeavor.

"I guess I would never really know," she said, referring to the number of performers who take part in the performance. "But in my neighborhood, if I had three or four people, I would think that's pretty cool."

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If Lasley gets the indication the performance resonates with people, she would like to see it become a weekly tradition with a new song being added every week. She emphasized the project is designed to reach listeners as well as performers.

"To me, you miss that," she said of the experience of hearing music performed live. "It's the social connection. It's exciting for everybody else to hear it, too."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com.

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