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Bands find ways to keep playing through pandemic

Cemetery photo for seniors: 'Our season is dead'

The sixth-grade band practicing in the middle school auditorium socially distanced. (Courtesy photo)
The sixth-grade band practicing in the middle school auditorium socially distanced. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON — With the ongoing COIVD-19 pandemic, band teachers were tasked with a challenge.

“How do we socially distance 60 students without masks?”

The Washington Community School District has two band teachers — Craig McClenahan and Don Hughes

McClenahan teaches middle school band and jazz. Hughes teachers high school and fifth-grade band.

“It has been odd,” Hughes said about the year.

Unlike choir, band students are not able to practice with masks on. Hughes said it is recommended the students keep 12 feet apart.

McClenahan said the only two options for practice space were outside or in the auditorium.

The directors settled on practicing in the auditorium.

With the students scattered around the auditorium front to back, McClenahan said it is difficult to keep the students on pace together and watch the sheet music instead of listening.

“By the time they hear the drums in the back of the auditorium, or the trumpets in the very back to the front, they’re too far behind and the sound isn’t quite right,” he said.

Hughes agreed, saying it is similar to marching band.

At the fifth-grade level, the students have not been able to meet as a whole group. Hughes said they have individual lessons once a week to learn the instruments.

“That’s pretty much all the chance I get to see them,” Hughes said. He said the students are behind where they would normally be, but he hopes next year will be better.

One of the positive changes this year is a new video recording system. The students are given an assignment which they record and submit through the program. The director and student is able to look back at the video and can get online feedback.

McClenahan said it gives the students an opportunity to listen again and compare it to feedback.

“For them to be able to review their own performance has been ideal,” he said.

Hughes said one of the largest challenges has been the lack of performances and events.

For performances in the beginning of the year, the bands did recording of their pieces, and it was posted online.

“That was actually a lot of fun for the students,” McClenahan said.

Now that the numbers of COVID-19 cases are going down, the bands are preparing for March concerts.

The concert will have breaks to air the room out and have a limited audience, the directors said.

Overall, McClenahan said the students have been great about adapting.

“Without the pressure of constantly performing or concerts, we’ve been able to work on the basics,” he said. He added the student may be progressing more than previous years.

Hughes said the students enjoy playing and are rising to the challenge.

The seniors have been the most disappointed with no marching season, Hughes said, but they understood and handled it well.

In a sarcastic act, the students took their senior poster picture in the cemetery.

“Our season is dead,” the poster was titled. He said despite the challenges, they’re still having fun.