Bands at Central Washington University have had a hard time adjusting to the pandemic But now the the county is in phase 2, the bands are able to meet and rehearse in person, albeit in a limited capacity.
Acting Director of Bands, Paul Bain, took over the position in spring 2020 after the previous director Lewis Norfleet left the university. Bain had to handle the new position, his old responsibilities as associate director and find solutions to rehearse and teach students remotely.
“I have not slept well if I’m being honest,” Bain said. “First of all, it is kind of a a dream to work here in this capacity. I have always felt this university, this department and the band program in the highest esteem. … I just wanted to do everything really well. I wanted to create an environment where students could do something expressive, and I had no idea how to do it. It was very stressful.”
Bain did everything he could to learn how to teach online bands as quickly as he could. He took online classes and did his homework. Before previous director Norfleet left the university, the two worked to come up with ways to teach band during a pandemic.
What they came up with in the spring didn’t involve any instrument playing by the students. Instead, students would be provided a video of another band that they would study and discuss as a group.
“It was the best thing that we could come up with and we really thought it was gonna be fantastic,” Bain said. “But it turned out to be a lot of work for the students. … It was completely the opposite of what we normally do, which was to come together and play music, and learn about teachings through performance in band. Learning about performing by playing it through.”
Over the summer, CWU hired T. André Feagin, who worked with Bain to come up with an online project for the students. Students would be given a piece of music to record and submit. These individual pieces would be combined into one recording as a single performance.
For this project the students were given a backing or background track they would play along to. Students would listen to the track through headphones and play with it, but they would only record their music, not the track. This gave students something to keep pace with, while they played.
“We did that, and it happened. The feedback from that was also, that it was incredibly stressful for the students because musicians are perfectionists,” Bain said. “You can imagine if you are recording a four-minute piece of music that if you make a mistake three minutes 40 seconds in, you think ‘oh I’ve got to start over.’”
On Jan. 19, bands started rehearsing in-person at CWU, and Bain said there has already been a massive improvement. Being able to directly hear the students is a huge help to teaching them.
“To see kids again and to collaborate has been good, and it’s been helpful to my mental health,” Bain said.
However, the bands have to be careful to not spread COVID to each other. Bain is concerned playing instruments will increase the spread of the virus in a room, and has been studying up on how to prevent it.
He has read using bellcovers on the instruments can limit the amount of aerosol spread by them. The study he has looked into, https://www.nfhs.org/articles/third-round-of-performing-arts-aerosol-study-produces-more-scientific-data-for-return-to-activities/ to find ways to keep students safe during indoor band practice.
He has also limited the amount of rehearsals for students. Instead of having five hours a week to practice, students are getting between 30-40 minutes. Bands are also broken into small groups, with different groups practicing everyday. This is in accordance with state guidelines, and are designed to limit the spread of the virus.
The problem with this method is even though students have less time to practice, they still have to reach the same goal as a normal year. However, Bain said he feels cautiously optimistic and excited when he looks to the future. Now that students can meet in person, they are slowly but steadily moving closer to those goals.