New Albany High School marching band steps up to coronavirus challenge

SARAH SOLE
ssole@thisweeknews.com
New Albany High School senior Ella Wielinski and others perform Aug. 19 during band practice at the high school stadium. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has caused several changes to the band's schedule and procedures this summer.

When Quentin Shores met with fellow New Albany High School marching band members for practice in mid-July, he found the atmosphere to be a little bittersweet.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic had made a typical band camp impossible, and the annual tradition was replaced with day practices at the high school, 7600 Fodor Road.

But Shores, a 17-year-old senior who plays tenor saxophone, said as the days went by, he and his fellow band members began focusing less on anxiety about the upcoming season and more on how fortunate they were to see each other again.

“Band is an environment built on the principles of camaraderie and brotherhood,” Shores said.

Although he and other band students had less time to build up that familiarity with each other than in years past, as the hours of practice wore on, they still became closer, cracking jokes and being friends, he said.

The marching band typically holds preliminary practices the first week of summer, followed by a week of practice leading up to the community’s July 4 parade, said director Darren Falk. All of those events were canceled because of COVID-19.

Also canceled was the five-day band camp at Camp McPherson in Danville, Falk said.

Instead, during the week of the scheduled trip, from July 13 to 16, students attended on-campus rehearsals at the high school, Falk said. To adhere to social distancing, they were divided into six groups of 10 to 25, practicing for 45 minutes at a time.

Students stayed a minimum of 6 feet apart, and they played instruments outside, Falk said. A few students declined not to come because of the coronavirus, he said.

Each student got about four hours of rehearsal time in that week, compared to about 40 hours of rehearsal time at the summer camp, Falk said.

Sarah Jones, a 17-year-old senior mellophone player, said she and her friends were disappointed that things didn’t go as planned with band camp.

Still, she said, she enjoyed the week spent on campus because she was able to be around music and her friends.

Working in smaller groups, though, was challenging, Jones said.

She said she usually uses the locations of those around her to make sure she’s in the right marching position on the field. Playing with a larger number of students is easier, too, she said, because it creates a fuller sound.

Even though band camp meant students were practicing in a limited fashion, Falk said, he found it emotionally rewarding to see them.

“It was nice to finally see them face to face,” he said.

The band added more rehearsal times during the last week of July, the week of Aug. 10 and again the week of Aug. 17, Falk said.

The season’s lack of practice has had an impact on the band’s performances, he said. The music, transitions and marching are much easier this year than in previous years to keep things simple for students, he said.

Although the summer calendar for band practice typically is released in December of the previous year, Falk said, this year, he had to add dates with short notice to families. Despite this, the practices have been well-attended, he said.

The band has more than 100 members, but some students participating in the district’s virtual-learning program might not participate this season, Falk said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

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New Albany High School senior Sarah Jones and others perform Aug. 19 during band practice at the high school stadium.