The South Portland Marching Band in 2019. Band students and educators entering the school year this fall are preparing for a different model of music education amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Contributed

Although band and choir classes will look different as school begins this fall, music educators and students are hopeful that the community will continue to support the programs.

In South Portland, music and band classes for kindergarten through eighth grade will continue remotely, Sandra Barry, music teacher and band director at Mahoney Middle School, said. For high school students, in order to meet in person, the year will be split as students will take band for one half of the year in two separate groups.

At Cape Elizabeth Middle School, most students will start the year in a hybrid model, similar to South Portland, with both remote and in-person class sessions, Caitlin Ramsey, band director for grades five through eight, said.

“Students will have their core classes on their in-person day and then take the bulk of their allied arts classes online on their remote days,” Ramsey said. “While I’d of course love to see my students in person, this model helps students remain in their pods, while also giving allied arts teachers greater access to students from a scheduling standpoint, which helps maintain the integrity of our programs. ”

Through all the planning this summer, the COVID-19 pandemic and continuous updates from the Maine Department of Education and Maine Center for Disease Control have made teachers and students understand that situations may change without warning, Barry said.

“The impacts of the things we’re facing are having a complicated effect on planning music classes, to say the least,” Barry said.

When schools were forced to halt in-person learning last March, many festivals or events that take place near the end of the school year were canceled, Barry said. These concerts and performances also serve as motivators for many students as they practice and work on challenging pieces.

Cape Elizabeth band student Kathryne Clay participating in Porch Fest on May 21. Last spring Cape Elizabeth encouraged students to play outside of their homes for family and neighbors because spring concerts and performances were cancelled. Courtesy photo Cape Elizabeth Music Department

Since switching to the remote platform, Barry has found it more difficult to keep her students motivated for numerous reasons, she said.

“Music is meant to be shared and learned together, and there’s a lot of motivation in that for kids,” Barry said. “Besides the fun factor, it’s a way to engage with a big group of people. It’s a neat energy to be able to do that together and feel that progress together.”

Che-Hao Saito, an alto saxophone student entering ninth grade at South Portland High School, had been anticipating a jazz festival last spring that was canceled, he said. While it was nice for him to continue band classes remotely, the energy just wasn’t the same.

“It’s harder to be more motivated and enjoy it if you don’t have your peers,” Saito said. “The atmosphere is a lot more different.”

Similarly, Lucy Hartley, a senior oboe and baritone saxophone player, thought the end to her junior year provided little satisfaction, she said.

When schools suspended in-person learning in march, band classes required students to record themselves playing certain pieces or exercises, Hartley said. She felt like band was a much less significant part of her education.

“It seems to me that there is very little attention given the arts in the schools right now,” Hartley said. “Band and chorus do pose unique threats to student health with COVID-19, and these classes will require creative and ‘outside-of-the-box’ solutions, but overall it has seemed like the problem has not been given enough thought.”

Craig Skeffington, the South Portland High School band director, said that although band at the high school level will be able to begin in-person, students are not allowed to play indoors.

“We’re not allowed to play indoors right now, which saddens me to no end,” Skeffington said. “We’ve got September, maybe the first part of October, before the weather turns bad. We’re hoping there’s some turnaround with the CDC and DOE that maybe allows us to play inside again in a few weeks.”

At Cape Elizabeth, Ramsey said she feels fortunate to have strong support of the music program, but other districts in Maine might not be able to offer the same level of music, band, or chorus classes as in previous years.

“The unfortunate reality is that some of those approaches are going to have negative long term implications on programs, which means fewer opportunities for students in the future,” Ramsey said. “I know that’s not the intent, but with music and the arts often being on the periphery of education, this situation may be the breaking point for some programs.”

Kaelan Gildart, a junior at South Portland High School, plays flute and drums but has also been finding it hard to continue without the rest of the band or marching band playing beside her, she said.

“A lot of people are very attached to both these programs and it affected them mentally and emotionally when they couldn’t have access to that,” Gildart said. “Some of us are trying to go to college with that or are trying to make it a career.”

She said that she hopes to pursue musical theater in college and is thankful for strong teacher support in high school.

“I really appreciate the teachers and staff involved in the music program,” Gildart said. “They’re doing the best job they can in this situation.”

Parents Julie Rothrock and Nancy Bonnevie, whose children are band students at South Portland High School, said that they feel that the district has done a good job of meeting student needs overall in such an unusual and difficult situation.

Rothrock is also part of the South Portland Music Boosters, which has had to cancel fundraisers that take place each year, she said.

Bonnevie and Rothrock’s children use music not just in the educational sense, but also as a social outlet, whether that is hanging out with friends in the band room or performing together, Bonnevie said. Despite this, health and safety is still more important.

“I think it’s a bummer, but on the other hand we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and I think if activities can’t be done safely, they should be put on pause,” Bonnevie said.

Although some students have found the remote learning to be tough, Barry said that students who are more reserved in the classroom have been flourishing in the online setting.

“I’ve had students who might be quieter in an active, bigger, louder class,” Barry said. “Many, not all, enjoy this experience because their input was theirs and it was independent. Even if it was just for a moment, they had the teacher’s undivided attention. Those kids are super creative but they might not like to talk so much in front of other people.”

Ramsey said she had a similar experience with some students who weren’t as comfortable in a brick-and-mortar classroom.

“Seeing those differences has been really eye opening for educators and will ultimately help us become better teachers,” Ramsey said.

Besides this, the inability to plan for concrete performances and events, this year will provide a spotlight for the process of music-learning, Barry said.

“It’s an amazing process,” Barry said. “It deserves as much attention as the product. If you see the marching band down the street or the choir singing, that’s the end result of months and months of work. The performances are the reward and they’re great, but the next day the students are onto another challenge after that. “

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