At Leesville, we have 3 band ensembles: intermediate band, concert band, and symphonic band. Speculation of what these bands look like in the future is majorly altered by Covid-19. The Leesville band that will be hit the hardest post-covid is the symphonic marching band. This band requires extensive marching training and the quality of sound has always been at a very high level. Entering the next school year, not many symphonic band members will know how to march and few will have experience in the symphonic band environment due to a year in virtual school.
Through experience in the symphonic band environment, band members develop a high level of professionalism and excellence. With a lack of rehearsal and activity over the past year, the previously high-performing symphonic band could quickly lose its reputation.
Alyssa Montgomery, Leesville band director, leaves the future of the symphonic band in the hands of the class of 2022. This is the only class that has significant experience in symphonic band, and it is up to them to teach inexperienced members what it means to be a member of this band.
However, all the Leesville bands and their director are very persistent and are determined to climb their way back up to a high-quality band program.
I asked Leesville’s previous band director, David Albert, about the future of high school band in general. Albert predicts that “there will certainly be a period of rebuilding for most band programs.”
So, why is there a need to rebuild?
Before Covid-19, participating in band was a popular choice for students in high school. The majority of high school band programs would plan concerts, trips, competitions, and more. High school marching bands would normally participate in parades, football games, pep rallies, etc. When the Coronavirus emerged, this all faded away.
During virtual school, band was drastically different. Over a platform like Zoom or Google Meet, high school bands were not able to play as an ensemble. Some band directors required their students to turn on their cameras during class to ensure everyone was playing, some picked one person to play at a time, and others trusted their students to practice on their own.
There were many ways that band directors operated online band, but all options were extremely abnormal for band students.
For new band members, band may have seemed boring or unrewarding. They were not able to experience performances, and they were unable to get to know other people in the band. Without concerts, trips, and making friends, they could not get an idea of what band truly is.
For returning band members, virtual band was extremely disappointing — transitioning from a fun, exciting, and full schedule to uneventful online rehearsals. This may have caused a loss of love for band or a lack of motivation to continue to put energy into the band program.
Locally, counties have started to transition into in-person learning. However, bands are still left with challenging circumstances.
Concert bands will attempt to gain permission to hold concerts and will be limited by factors such as small audience sizes.
Marching bands, who are left without half-time shows due to the lack of rehearsal, will attempt to entertain crowds in new ways. They will also have to find events that they are able to perform and march at.
Amongst local high school bands, there are varying outcomes emerging during this shift. I asked Albert about this transition — he stays in contact with many band directors in the area.
“Several programs I have seen have been struggling with low numbers during the hybrid phase,” said Albert over text. He suspects “Leesville is recovering better than most.”
This confirms the idea that band has become significantly less appealing to students due to online school. Students might remain virtual and have no motivation to return to an in-person band.
In the future, this will not only affect the Leesville bands but also high school bands in general.
Because virtual school has created a new reputation and understanding of what high school band is, it might not be a desirable option for incoming high school students. The number of students enrolling in their high schools’ band could significantly decrease. Additionally, it might leave students in lower-level bands at their high schools with no motivation to audition for a higher-level band or marching band because they do not look as rewarding. Overall, participation in high school bands could decrease.
However, what perhaps might be the most threatening to high school band programs will be the lack of talent and experience.
During online school, band directors were not able to hear students play on a regular basis and could rarely give students individual attention. As a result, the quality of sound from band members could have decreased during virtual school.
As students return to school, band directors will not only have to assess where the band is as a whole but also each student. Each member practiced a different amount and was in a different environment during quarantine, so there will be a varying amount of talent across bands.
In addition to talent decrease, expectations might be lowered as well. Some students have never participated in a high school band non-virtually — this means they may be unfamiliar with band protocols and expectations in high school. Entering the next school year, there will be freshmen and sophomores who lack this experience. Due to this loss, high school bands could be left with lowered levels of respectability. Traditions could also be lost and a “new normal” might be created.
All this said, it is very clear that high school bands have been set back by Covid-19, and it will be interesting to see how they build themselves back up. Hopefully, Leesville will come back on top.