Before the pandemic, students at Italy’s oldest and largest music conservatory were always told to move “closer, closer, closer” when they played together.

“Because you need to hear each other,″ said Cristina Frosini, director of the Giuseppe Verdi Music Conservatory in Milan. ”Even at a meter’s distance, it is harder to play together.”

In its 213 years, the conservatory has turned out talents including composer Giacomo Puccini, and conductors Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, and Riccardo Chailly.

The pandemic, which struck Lombardy first in Italy, and Italy first in the West, cast the 1,700 students asunder. For the first months of total lockdown, they could only follow classes online.

When they returned to in-person instrumental instruction a year ago, students had to adjust to both distancing and playing behind plexiglass, whatever the instrument — flute, violin, piano, drums. Frosini said the safety measures worked: There have been only five cases of COVID-19 among students playing together.

“The students were happy because it was the only way to make music and be together. Psychologically, it was very important,” Frosini said. But musically, it has been challenging.