Health orders hit wrong note with music school


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Shakespeare may have written "if music be the food of love, play on" — but he may never have contemplated public health enforcement during a pandemic.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/02/2021 (543 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Shakespeare may have written “if music be the food of love, play on” — but he may never have contemplated public health enforcement during a pandemic.

COVID-19 enforcement officers descended on River Heights School of Music on the weekend, intent on ticketing them for violating public health order restrictions.

But music school owner Robert Burton said on Monday when he told the two officers he believed the public health orders did allow them to instruct students, having one teacher with one student, that’s when things became confusing.

Enforcement officers were confused about the rules surrounding music schools and public health restrictions, says River Heights School of Music owner Robert Burton. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“They said they didn’t think we could be doing in-person lessons, but they could not get confirmation from their boss,” Burton said.

“They said I had to prove I could be open or they threatened fines.”

The officers finally left, saying they would get the matter clarified first before ticketing him, but when Burton asked why they had come to his school and not one of the larger internationally owned music schools, the officers said they were next on the list, he said.

When students attend River Heights School of Music to learn how to play a piano, guitar, ukelele or drums, they are taught by physically distanced teachers, Burton said.

“We have four rooms with one student and teacher in a room,” he said. “They are not facing each other — they are looking at the music — and everybody sits six feet away.

“On Valentine’s Day (after the new guidelines were announced) we had a few more people come and register for lessons. They thought if you can get a haircut you should be able to get a music lesson.”

Under Section 75 of the public health orders, businesses are allowed to provide tutoring or other individualized educational instruction.

“It is difficult to write orders for every possible scenario,” Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said when asked about music lessons during Monday’s press conference.

With the latest loosening of restrictions, the province was looking at businesses, including gyms and fitness facilities, to open at 25 per cent capacity to do individual fitness or one-on-one training, he said.

“We wanted to keep it one-on-one just to ensure that all the measures would be taken by everyone,” he said.

A business that is allowed to open and is normally run out of a house could also open under those restrictions, but the instructor would not be allowed to go to students’ home, Roussin said.

“In these orders, it is really travelling to other peoples’ house(s),” he said.

There are health benefits for learning to play an instrument — and not just for mental health, Burton said.

“We teach them how to play piano and then they go home and practise and stay home. What could be better during a pandemic?”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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