MAULDIN, S.C. (AP) - It was never about the music.
This year makes it really clear that the marching part and the band part aren’t the most important things about marching band.
The coronavirus has cancelled the competitive season and while there is no cancelling friendships, doing band camp remotely and practicing over Zoom will never be the same as weeks of in-person practices and that normal bonding.
High school band has always been about the students connecting with each other, said Adam Scheuch, director of Mauldin High School’s band program, the largest of its kind in the largest school district in the state.
It’s not about the song choice or how they move on the field, it’s about their inside jokes and laughs.
“These people have seen me at my worst, crying and sweaty and gross,” said Powdersville High drum major Destiny Tavera said. “And we have to keep our culture as close as it has been.”
And how today’s leaders do it - not just for marching bands but for all school activities and all students - will set the foundations for underclass members to stick around long enough to keep the programs thriving.
HOW TO KEEP IT FRIENDLY AT A DISTANCE
Ford Love, a marching band member at Riverside High School, said the cancellation of the competitive marching band season was a blow.
Marching bands often rely on competitions to drive their practices, football halftime shows are the fun part but competitions are where they really show off their skills, said Brenna Curtis, drum major and senior at Mauldin High School, the largest band in the largest school district in the state.
There will be football game halftime shows but during the game there will be fewer band members, each band member means one less ticket sold when capacity is already limited.
The Mauldin band practices indoors in a large auditorium, people spaced several seats apart and brass instruments have cloth over their bells, similar to a mask on a face.
They can only practice indoors for 30 minutes at a time and have to go outside until the air can re-circulate as they practice their marching in the school’s parking lot, marked with chalk to simulate the football field.
This year has more rest breaks, more walking to and fro and more water breaks since the students are outside more. All of that, and a premium on school space, means less time to rehearse and precious little time spent as a full band until their performances.
In Powdersville, the practices have all been outside so far, aided several days by overcast skies. It makes for hot days and they hug the shade of the building.
Those are the physical modifications, the students have gotten fairly used to those kinds of changes.
KEEP THAT MARCH BAND FEELING
The harder stuff will be the emotional side.
At Mauldin High, one answer was to assign students to call other students daily.
They had a virtual band camp and each section - the flute and the trumpets - would be expected to check on the others. A lot like normal years, but it takes a message or a call instead of being done during practice.
The students didn’t play much, too much lag on the video to make it work smooth, so the most experienced ones would play as an example.
It takes a lot of intentional work to make connections happen right now, said Curtis Wallace, a junior and band captain at Powdersville High.
“We call two people every day, how are you doing, how can we help you,” he said.
Tavera, the drum major, said the band has always gone by the motto: “Great band, better people.”
It means that while they have high standards for their music - the band has previously been state division champions and routinely wins competitions - the emphasis is on getting better each day.
At both Mauldin and Powdersville bands, the number of people participating has not gone down.
With all the challenges, something has to give and this year it may be a little bit on the technical side, said Trey Ferrell, director of Powdersville High School’s band.
“We’re choosing our relationships first,” he said.
Ten years after they’re done with marching band, no one will remember the songs they played or what place they finished at a competition, Ferrell said.
“Well, maybe if they win state,” he said.
But all the students will remember their crush, who they sat next to on the bus and their friends, the inside jokes and how they felt.
Joining band, said Powdersville’s band captain Curtis Wallace, was what brought him out of his shyness.
“It’s hard because we’ve always been close,” he said. “We’re not able to touch or hug or get close. But we can do elbow bumps.”
As for Curtis, the Mauldin drum major, she is grateful there is still a season this year, the band will play on.
“I’m just hoping the seniors have a good time and enjoy it,” she said. “Even though it won’t be the same, it will be a show that’s not known for Covid-19, but a show for marching band that is a good show for everyone.”
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