Keep the Music Playing: One Retired Teacher Serves Her Community, One Mask at a Time

A prototype of one of Debbie Parker’s “Melodie Masks,” which she designs and constructs herself. (Courtesy of Debbie Parker)

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted retired school teacher and costume designer Debbie Parker. Not only did both she and her husband lose their jobs, both of her parents also passed away earlier this year. However, when Kathy Caton, a former chorus teacher and choral director at The First Congregational Church in Dalton, Massachusetts, showed Parker an article about masks designed specifically for singers, Caton said she encouraged Parker to take a leap of faith and create her own design.

“I was doing research on aerosol spread through singing, and when I came across articles about these signing masks, I told [Parker] to take a look at these articles and see what they’re doing,” Caton said. “At first, she told me that she had too much on her plate and she needed focus on how to make money, but I kept on pushing because the answer she was looking for was right in front of her.”

After that conversation, “Melodie Masks” came to be. Parker has been making and selling these special masks since August 2020. These “singing masks,” which are individually customized, are designed for performers to use their voices to their fullest potential while remaining protected from potential air-born diseases like COVID-19. Inside these masks are structured pieces that arch away from the face, allowing for better airflow and minimal muffled sounds. The masks also extend below the chin to allow for complete coverage when a performer opens their mouths to sing.

A student musician playing her flute while wearing one of Debbie Parker’s “Melodie Masks.” (Courtesy of Debbie Parker)

In addition to the “singing masks,” Parker also makes two separate “band masks” designed for people who play brass and woodwind instruments, and for people who play instruments like the flute. The design for brass and woodwind instruments has an overlapping piece of fabric that enables an instrument’s mouthpiece to go into the mouth while providing coverage for the performer. The mask designed for flute players has three separate fabric layers – one that enables the flute to slide in and out of the mask, and one with a flap that covers the mouth but allows the performer to blow into the flute.

Since starting her business, Parker’s masks have been featured by media outlets like Newsday and PIX 11 News, and she has received orders from all across the country. Parker said she is grateful for the positive feedback she has received about her masks because she said it reminds her of how powerful social media can be for small businesses like her own.

“A lot of what I’ve been doing is finding different Facebook groups to get the word out there,” Parker said. “What’s great is that when somebody gets it and they share it with colleagues who share it with somebody else, that’s keeping me going. If it wasn’t a functional product people would not be sharing it with their colleagues.”

A student musician demonstrating how to play a trumpet while wearing one of Debbie Parker’s “Melodie Masks.” (Courtesy of Debbie Parker)

One of Parker’s first and frequent customers, James Jones, can attest to the quality of her product. Jones, who has worked in the Wyandanch School District as a band director for approximately 15 years, initially bought some of Parker’s masks to keep on hand for his students. However, after hearing feedback from his students who have used and purchased their own masks, he decided to invest in more.

“I asked one of my students, who is a trumpet player, about his thoughts about the masks, and he said that it was way more comfortable, safer, and convenient,” Jones said. “Up until that point, we were poking a hole and putting the mouthpiece to the back of the mask to stick out, and then you had to take your mouthpiece off and you got a mouthpiece hanging out of your mask. But with this mask, he could actually take the trumpet off from his mouth and not have the mouthpiece hanging out of his mask and pulling off of his face.”

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, the future of music performance and music education remains uncertain. However, Parker said that she hopes that through her business, she can help others, especially students, to continue improving their skills and enjoying music. 

“I became a teacher to help out and watch children grow their curiosity and improve their skills,” Parker said. “If I make a mask and that enables one more child to be able to play their instrument or sing in their choir, then I’ve done what I need to do.”

For information about Parker’s masks, feel free to reach out to her on her Facebook page or give her a call at (631) 766-6061.

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