High School Music Program Returns to Normal

The high school bands normal seating layout, which will be used this year, with social distancing.

P. Giordano

The high school band’s ‘normal’ seating layout, which will be used this year, with social distancing.

After a school year that was significantly changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the high school’s music program will see a ‘return to normal’ during the 2021-22 school year. In-person concerts will be returning, extracurricular music groups will return to their usual format, and the school musical will take place after a year in which it didn’t happen.

Last year was a very different and difficult year for the music program, especially for the band and orchestra. For instance, those groups experienced a complete lack of concerts—a departure from the three the high school typically hosts in a school year.  There was also a complete lack of weekly, small-group lessons for students, as well as other challenges.

“The main challenge of last year was having the band split into five groups,” said Mr. O’Brien, director of the high school band. “Those five groups were split randomly, so there was no cohesive instrumentation or skill level; the groups were split based on how they would fit into each individual student’s schedule. This made finding music for us to do incredibly difficult.”

Most of these challenges will no longer be a concern for the current school year, as the lessening of COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions has eliminated the need for them to be in place. Because of this, in-person concerts and a school musical can and will be held again. In addition, the band and orchestra will each return to rehearsing as one group during a class period, rather than being split into several different groups throughout the day.

“I was thrilled to hear that the orchestra and other music groups were going back to normal this year,” said Saleena Ali, a senior in orchestra. “Especially with the way things were last year, it didn’t seem possible that we would go back to normal. Playing in the pit orchestra for the musical was one of the highlights of my sophomore year and now my senior year too, so I’m glad that will happen again.”

As for the school musical, it will be held in the spring of this school year, due mainly to concerns related to the pandemic. This is a difference from the normal schedule, as the musical occurred in the fall in many of the previous school years.

“Because of the ongoing COVID restrictions, we thought it would be best to push it off until later in the school year,” Mr. O’Brien said. “This will give us an opportunity to figure out the challenges we will be facing, such as how we will be able to fit all of the pit orchestra musicians into the limited space we have. We have to figure out things such as how we’re going to build a set that can coexist with all of the other events happening in the auditorium.”

However, the return to normal does not mean that this year will be without unusual challenges for the music program, as the pandemic is still ongoing. These challenges include proper rehearsal of performance techniques while maintaining appropriate social distance, as well as band rehearsals being held in an unusual location.

“We are still 6-feet apart, so playing as a cohesive ensemble will be difficult,” said Mr. O’Brien. “Working on things like balance and blend while 6-feet apart is incredibly challenging. In addition, we recently found out space will be a challenge, because we will now be temporarily rehearsing in the auxiliary gym, which is probably the least ideal space for us to rehearse.”

Even in the face of these unusual challenges, and the ongoing pandemic, students and teachers alike are eager to ‘return to normal’ and are optimistic about what may happen during the school year.

“We are going to do the best we can,” Mr. O’Brien said. “And I think with everyone’s best effort, we will be able to come out on top.”