This article appeared in the May 10 edition of the Standard Times. To view the original article, please click here.
The award-winning Dartmouth High School marching band may be left temporarily silenced due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but its interest among students is not wavering.
With just under 120 students in the program, the town’s director of music and the high school’s band director William Kingsland says while student interest in the band and musical courses remains steady, the upcoming band season is uncertain.
“Obviously, school will not be back in session for the end of the year, so as much course requests as we have and with all the programs looking like we have good signups for the following year in the fall, all of it remains a little uncertain right now. The band does an ‘x’ amount of stuff during the summer and all of that is kind of contingent on the governor’s plans and however this plays out. As much as we’re trying to plan, we really don’t know exactly what dates we’re going to be able to get back to doing what we would do. And even if we do, are we going to be able to perform in large venues with lots of people? So, there’s a lot of unknowns right now,” Kingsland said.
With his retirement planned for the end of the fiscal year, Kingsland also expressed dissatisfaction with leaving so many unanswered questions to his current staff and newly hired band director Ian Flint. He said the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdowns include the loss of in-person, group practices meant to fine-tune the band’s marching and coordination during events, with over 100 individual moves planned for an average performance.
“It’s kind of frustrating for me because I’m leaving my current staff and the new director of music with more loose ends than I expected,” said Kingsland.
“Interestingly, the kids are still really great and the program looks good for next fall. But, the experience we can offer right now really isn’t what it would be. A lot of being in a band or a string orchestra or a chorus has to do with the interaction that students have with each other and the director and being able to do things together.”
Like all Dartmouth High School students, those involved with the band are continuing musical instrument classes online via Zoom, something Kingsland and Assistant Band and Percussion Director Tom Aungst say is helpful in allowing students to learn their instruments individually, but is ultimately ineffective in practicing as an entire band, chorus or orchestra.
Aungst, also a musical instrument teacher at DHS, says for both students and staff alike, it’s about moving forward and planning for the future, despite the restrictions currently in place due to COVID-19.
“We’re just trying to figure out a way to keep things moving for the kids and keep the interest there. We’ve been doing videos, so they’ll post videos of themselves playing. That’s something as far as hearing what they are doing, but as far as the movement, we have to get out there and do it,” Aungst said.
“This weekend we have a Zoom meeting discussing the marching band and we’re going to start to design the show. I think what we’re thinking is, ‘We’re moving ahead.’ I know its day-by-day as far as what the steps (to reopening) are, but we’re going ahead like we’re going to do this.”
Kingsland said that its not just the band’s overall performance that’s effected by the COVID-19 shutdowns. He explained that he’s noticed the emotional toll social distancing has taken on students, particularly those who look at the band and other performance classes as a way to connect with other students.
“I have a few students who are struggling just being at home and by themselves, and you can see it when you talk to them on Zoom, some kids just hardly want to get out of bed. It’s sad and its something the performance classes at the high school have always provided – they always had that connection for the kids to be part of something and be good at something, and that’s really important,” he said.
With Thursday’s news of this year’s Feast of the Blessed Sacrament being cancelled in New Bedford, the marching band’s season kickoff event follows suit. Typically viewed as the first performance that features the entire band – including new freshman students – the cancellation further delays the band’s progress in performing as a unit.
“I think we’re just going to have to be creative in how we do it. It’ll be different for us, but it’s where we’re at and we’re just going to have to pick up the pieces and move on in a positive way,” Aungst said.