How COVID-19 has affected Northwest’s band program


Kelby Shouse

Senior Lillian Wiener plays piccolo at a marching band rehearsal. The band program at Northwest has over 160 members.

During the 2020-2021 school year, every aspect of high school has been changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All classes at Northwest have been conducted via Microsoft Teams, and many teachers struggle to teach, especially when trying to reinvent the way they have done their jobs for years.  

However, the classes most impacted are Northwest’s arts programs, such as the band program. Their hands-on nature makes it especially hard for teachers to instruct students. Even minor things that barely impact other classes, such as video and audio delay, make life infinitely harder for students and teachers alike. 

“The biggest issue (I deal with) is the internet and Teams crashing, lagging or just not working. Attempting to teach music where timing is crucial to the success of what we do, but we rely on the internet to make it happen,” Director of Bands, Brian McMath said. “It just cannot be as successful as in class playing. Teams crashing and lagging is just another horrible culprit making music education even more difficult.” 

Students have struggled with motivation and the vast difference between learning music in person versus online. 

“The main problem I am struggling with in taking band class online is truly finding a means of motivation. I love music and I love performing, but it’s hard to keep that same love and energy when there is not really anything to look forward to,” junior Sam Uhrlass said. 

I love music and I love performing, but it’s hard to keep that same love and energy when there is not really anything to look forward to,”

— Sam Uhrlass

Difficulties ranging from audio delays to the spaces between classes makes it hard for the students to receive feedback from McMath. 

“Since I cannot hear students together, it has to be individually or me demonstrating parts to help them learn theirs, but I never get to hear them at that moment as a group,” McMath said. “Only through Canvas assignments can I assess their understanding and/or growth of what we are attempting to accomplish. I am used to giving immediate feedback and now it has to be a week-long process or so.” 

Additionally, band is a team effort. Playing only their part of the score alone makes it harder for students to adjust to the music. 

“(It’s difficult) that I can’t physically play with other people. (When) recording assignments for concerts, (it is) very easy to lose your place when you’re playing by yourself,” sophomore Kaley Lesperance said. “There are many more recordings for us to make (than what is normal). Before, our concerts would count as test grades, and now we have to record them in chunks by ourselves.” 

However, amid the struggles in online classes, a few positives shine through. 

“One of the best things about having band in online classes is that recently, we have been starting to learn little music theory lessons here and there, and they are always so intriguing to learn about.,” junior Ryan Goldin said. “The best part is that we really don’t have any assignments or tests for them and that we still keep our purpose in band, which is to play music and have fun.”  

Band is a unifying class that teaches music and teamwork. Future endeavors are still in the works. The program isn’t giving up just yet. 

“Currently, we are planning for a virtual concert to be held and we’re in the process of choosing songs to play. We don’t play as much as we used to, but I think that’s okay at the moment,” Uhrlass said. “each student would send in their parts in a video, and we’ll hire an editor to put all the videos together, so it sounds like a normal concert.” 

Along with the band program ramping itself up, the marching band program is doing the same thing as well. 

“We are planning to have socially distanced rehearsals from 7-8:30 for color guard, since we are looking to do an e-showcase for WGI (Winter Guard International). It is open to all high schoolers, and there are even parents that are taking part in it, like my mom,” Goldin said. “I am really looking forward to being able to take part in the showcase and being able to spin again.” 

But this revamping is not without its own difficulties as well. 

“Practices will be done like every ‘normal’ year. However, the COVID guidelines will change how they’re done. It’s hard to write movements for a show if you have to be 6ft apart. We have roughly 150-180 members and spacing each one out 6ft from each other and trying to fit us all on a football field isn’t going to work,” Uhrlass said. “We’ll find a way to make do, because in the end we always do.” 

The plan for later into 2021 is still roughly the same as it has been in past years.  

“We are planning for a full marching band competition season for Fall 2021.  We are working and designing the same show as we planned for fall 2020, (called) Virtual I,” McMath said. 

This year in the band program has been unexpected, and definitely like no other, but the program’s members have adapted and faced the challenges that the pandemic has presented with persistence.  

“If you were to tell me a year ago that I would be doing all of this, I would probably doubt that this would be how the band would work and that there would be a pandemic going on,” Goldin said. “I felt completely unprepared for band class to be the way that it is for everybody in the program now. I am hoping that we will be able to play together again soon and do what we were meant to do in band class (in the future).”