After nearly a month into the 2021-2022 school year, band directors and music students across the province are excited that in-person learning is back in schools.
Mark Loewen, band conductor at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School, says he enjoys hearing all the instruments playing together again, even the off-key notes.
“Squeak away. We'll work on that, but just squeak away," Loewen says.
Loewen says they’ve had a great start to the band program with things almost appearing normal. He especially appreciates that band students are allowed to play together every school day, whereas last year it was every other day or twice a week, which he felt “really killed the momentum."
“Band is one of those courses that rely on continuity for kids to learn to play together. They start in Grave 7 or 8 and then play all the way through high school. So kids can't really jump in and jump up. So it's been difficult, because (over the last year and a half) kids have been finding other things to do."
Then when the pandemic hit and teaching had to be done from home and online, Loewen says his students struggled and became discouraged. Now everyone is back in the band room, hearing each other as they play their instruments.
“We're seeing some pretty good signs of catching up already. My Grade 9s that just came in, and they're awesome by the way, a great group of Grade 9s, but they hadn't really seriously played since Christmas of their Grade 7 year. So, I was really worried about it. But they are accelerating through stuff so much quicker than if they would just be in Grade 7 starting off.”
He says band students are “pumped to be back” but more than that, “they're pumped to be making music together again!" Loewen adds, "I'm pretty excited too if you can tell."
"This is the number one thing that I've learned throughout this whole experience, that the kids sign up for band to make music in the community. When they were remote learning they were at home by themselves. It doesn't matter what instrument they play, what kind of music they're playing, they just want to make music together. And now that they're back together, there's a whole new excitement, there’s a real buzz again," Loewen says. "Being together with everybody in the community is something not every high school course requires. So, this is a special privilege band students have.”
Loewen says they've got momentum now and things are rolling along quite nicely. They are still keeping to the public health orders and restrictions. He says they are adhering to all the guidelines including washing mouthpieces and singing with masks on. He is uncertain about what performances will look like.
“That depends on gathering restrictions. These aren't education issues. These are public health restrictions. So, if we can only have fifty people in a building then we can't have a concert. The other thing is, if someone is not vaccinated, what are we going to say, ‘I'm sorry but you cannot attend your granddaughter’s Christmas concert.’ I'm sorry, but we're not going to go there. We're not going to put anybody into that position.”
For now, Loewen says they are not planning a Christmas concert, but they are holding what’s ahead loosely and will be ready to make adjustments should the health orders permit. While talking with other band conductors in the region, Loewen says they don’t want to get too excited “because our hopes have been dashed a few times already in the last couple of years, and so we're careful. We're not cynical, but we're cautiously optimistic.”
Written by Adi Loewen