Band marches on, Niles band season continues without football, competitions

By CHRISTINA CLARK
christina.clark@leaderpub.com

NILES — On warmer fall days, band students can be heard playing outdoors. The familiar rhythm from the percussion section reminds everyone around that music classes have not stopped in spite of pandemic precautions.
When weather and temperatures force students and instructors indoors, the band spreads out as much as possible. With the additional space between them, the musicians rely more heavily on their own ears and skill, instead of melting into the collective sound.
Area school systems have adapted their band classes and rehearsals as COVID-19 has changed the way students can space out and perform in class and for audiences.
“Band practices are primarily happening outside,” said Ruth Livengood, director of bands with Brandywine Community Schools. “When the weather forces us inside, we are separated, minimizing playing and social distancing with very small groups.”
Connie Wicklund, director of bands at Niles Community Schools, said the Niles band has been operating in a similar way.
“We rehearse in the auditorium when we’re inside,” Wicklund said. “[Students] are not on stage, they’re in the audience chairs. We can’t socially distance on the stage. It’s an interesting setup, since they’re seated out to three-quarters of the way back. The percussion is on the stage and I’m on stage and I walk around.”
High school marching and concert bands have adapted how things are done this fall as students returned in person and virtually to classrooms. The kickoff of football season usually brings marching band performances under Friday night lights, but this year executive orders have limited attendance numbers.
“Since we are currently not allowed at football games, we’ve been learning two songs,” Wicklund said.
As sports began for the fall, along with the notablely thin crowds at football games, the Friday night lights are also not highlighting marching band performances.
“We have so far not been involved with games,” Livengood said. “Now that the latest executive order has allowed for more people at games, there is the possibility of playing in some capacity, which we will continue to explore.”
A Facebook post from Brandywine Middle High School Principal Josh Hood indicated the marching band may be included in Oct. 9’s football game plan.
The Vikings are also waiting to see if they will be able to perform at the football games.
“There may be a possibility of some of the band attending football games after Oct. 9, but because our band is so large, they cannot all come,” Wicklund said. “It might happen, it might not.”
Each school’s band director has explored additional safety precautions, like bell covers and musician masks.
“We are obtaining bell covers, like masks for instruments, to keep this as safe as possible while inside,” Livengood said.
Wicklund said the Niles High School band has recommended students purchase a musician mask. The face masks have an overlapping opening so that the mouthpiece can fit through the mask while still providing a barrier.
Both the Bobcats and Vikings have decided against participating in any band competitions this year.
“There are only three scholastic competitions happening at all this year,” Wicklund said. “We are not participating this year, just for the safety factor. We thought they were all canceled.”
The competitions that are occurring this year are not going to be scored the same as years past.
“Most, if not all, competitions that are left are for comments only, so not a true competition in the sense of the word,” Livengood said.
Gathering around 120 students for Niles High School and more than 70 students for Brandywine Middle/High School for travel, was also logistically not going to be able to happen amidst COVID-19 precautions and mandates this fall.
Still, the band directors are making the best of the current situation and working with the student musicians. Wicklund said the Niles High School band is preparing for an outdoor band performance on Oct. 25.
“From day to day, we rehearse outside, 6 feet apart. It’s about as normal as we can get right now,” she said.

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