SCARBOROUGH — Although many see band class as a collaborative effort, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused music programs to take a more individualized approach when it comes to students learning and perfecting playing their instruments.

At Scarborough Middle School, band director Melissa Shabo is preparing to teach her students remotely, she said.

Scarborough is beginning school this the fall using a hybrid learning model, with students attending school two days a week and spending the other three days at home, learning online. But because of Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Education guidelines, band at the middle school wouldn’t be allowed in the in-person setting, Shabo said.

Right now, band directors must hold the class outside, but Scarborough Middle School’s population size is too large, and there isn’t enough space for all the students, she said.

The isolation of playing instruments alone will be hard for some students, Shabo said. For many, band class allows students to feel like they’re contributing to an effort that’s bigger than themselves, she said.

“In a full group, you have that feeling, but if you’re by yourself you find it hard to figure out how your part fits in,” she said. “Personal growth is important, too, but especially at this age, kids want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Shabo said that she wants to try and replicate this feeling remotely. As classes settle in, allowing staff and students to get accustomed to the hybrid model, Shabo may put together small ensembles that can meet virtually.

“In addition to the benefit of being a part of a team that makes music together, music education helps students develop their creative thinking, build self-confidence, and performing music can serve as an outlet for students,” she said.

At Scarborough High School, band students will be taking the class both in-person and remotely, Renee Richardson, band director, said.

“Students will work with our section teachers — woodwinds, low brass and trumpet — outdoors in good weather, with 14 feet of distance, and then through Google Meet when the weather changes,” she said in an email. “While their cohort is in the school building, all students, both wind and percussion, will use percussion ensembles as an opportunity to continue to play togetherbecause that is very important to us.”

Using internet-connected software like Smart Music and Sight Reading Factory, students will be able to play their instruments and record their music assignments from home, Richardson said.

“Students will also be working on music theory, learning about conducting, and working on putting some band music into a virtual band performance,” she said.

Stella Grondin and Emily Gurry, both 10th grade students at Scarborough High School, said that they thought that remote learning did a good job at helping them work on their individual sounds, but the two miss having fun group projects.

“I’m a little bit less motivated,” Grondin said. “We’re still learning but it doesn’t feel like we’re learning as much, as fast.”

The students were bummed that they couldn’t play in the band for the Scarborough High School graduation, they said. Each year, the students get to pick their own songs to perform, and the grades are able to play together as one band.

Isabel Alves, a third-grader at Wentworth School, performed “Brave” by Sara Bareilles during Porch Fest on June 4. Last spring, music students at the elementary level performed solo concerts for family and neighbors in lieu of concerts. Courtesy photo of Laurie Alves

Cindy Gurry, a parent who is a part of the Scarborough Band Boosters, said that band students usually don’t have a lot of individualized pieces, so losing that sense of community is not easy. At the high school level, the musicians have a better grasp of their instruments, so they don’t need to be practicing scales or working on the rudimentary techniques like the younger grades.

Although the pandemic is causing a shift in how the music program operates, the students said that they don’t think support for the program will go away.

“I feel like the people who have always cared about (the music program) still try to figure out ways for us to get to practice,” Emily Gurry said.

This might not be the case in other districts, Shabo said.

“The districts are kind of all over the place,” she said. “I’m excited, personally, that we have a schedule and I’m excited to have routine. We can do the same things in-person, remotely. I’m worried about programs — there are some schools who aren’t being as creative with their music programs and providing for their students.”

In South Portland, Craig Skeffington, band director of the high school, said that he’s been tracking a steady decline of band students for the past several years. There were 139 students enrolled in band in 2014 and now there are 88 students.

“The bottom line is after the pandemic, I’m fearful there may not be anyone left,” he said.

Caitlin Ramsey, band director for Cape Elizabeth Middle School, said that she’s thankful that her school district supports the music program, but she echoed Skeffington’s comments about the decline of music programs in other school districts, who may have to cut band out of the budget entirely.

In Scarborough, Shabo said that she wants to build a routine and get back into a groove with her students, while making the most of the situation.

“I’m very much looking forward to facilitating a fun, engaging, and collaborative learning environment for students and am excited to get back to work with our amazing band students,” she said.

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