Wind Symphony band adapts to COVID-19 changes

Going from intricate, extravagant pieces in the Spring of 2020 to more simple, easy pieces in the Fall 2020 semester, concerts look very different this year for the Wind Symphony Band

Precautions for bands this semester include social distancing, special performance masks, bell covers placed on the ends of instruments and a minimal audience. Performances and concerts are not open to the public and are live-streamed instead. 

“We’re really proud of the involvement we’ve seen from the livestream aspect,” Curran Prendergast, music professor and primary director of all Truman State University bands, said. “That’s been really important to help motivate everybody into practicing or keeping up skill and performing.”

Prendergast said there are typically several hundred accounts watching concerts, though he wasn’t sure how many people watch from each account. 

Joseph Hammond, a junior trombone player in Wind Symphony and Jazz Band, said direct audience feedback is important, so it’s been challenging to play without much of a live audience. However, he said he understands why that’s not possible right now and appreciates that his friends and family can livestream the events.  

In the fall, bands were able to practice outside to help reduce the risk of spread. However, practicing outside came with its own challenges, said Beth Wisbey, senior baritone saxophonist and french horn player. Wisbey is in the Wind Symphony band along with the Concert Band.

“That was actually pretty hard because we were very spread out, and you got the sun,” Wisbey said. “I got sunburnt a few times. [Getting sunburnt] was not fun, and you’ve got bugs too. I know one of my friends sits next to me; she does not like bugs, and one crawled on her, so she jumped up and ran away in the middle of rehearsal.” 

Wisbey said another issue was the wind. The musicians used clips to keep their music from blowing away, but moving the clips when pages needed to be turned was also an issue. 

Wind symphony was divided into two smaller groups once the weather got colder to allow for more distancing, Hammond and Wisbey said. The separation meant the music the band played had to be less elaborate since there were fewer instruments. 

Hammond said this change has been the most significant difference caused by COVID-19 precautions.

 “It was definitely a weird feeling going from such difficult pieces that require weeks and weeks of preparation to us having to kind of go with the flow as we figured out how Wind Symphony was going to work,” Hammond said.

Wisbey said she personally did not enjoy the easier material as much. Even though there is always room for improvement, she explained, it was hard to stay motivated. She said, however, she understood Prendergast and the other teachers were doing the best they could. 

Prendergast said the time and effort required with COVID-19 precautions have added difficulty to rehearsals, but students have risen to the challenge. 

“I’m just so impressed and proud of the students at how hard they worked, all the little precautions we’ve had to do,” Prendergast said. “There’s just so much effort we have to put in because we want to be there and do it.” 

Prendergast said he is looking forward to playing more difficult music again. While the music has been good, it’s not to the standard of the music the bands were able to play in March 2020. 

Hammond said the last piece Wind Symphony played before students were sent home in the Spring of 2020 was a very intricate and extravagant piece called “Frozen Cathedral.” Now the band is playing smaller pieces. This has required less of a time commitment, and Hammond said he has enjoyed having more time to focus on his classes. 

Wisbey said Wind Symphony recently started practicing some more difficult music, which has been a nice change from last semester. Fall 2021 will be her last semester of band, so she said she hopes things will go back to normal in the fall as long as it can be done safely. 

Precautions have been working so far, Prendergast said.  

“We settled in and we realized we’ve been 100% safe, we’ve seen no spread in our ensembles, no infections during our rehearsals and things like that,” Prendergast said.

Hammond said he thinks the system of rehearsals and performances is working. He understands that it’s not possible to take every COVID-19 precaution while still being able to play music. There’s been a good balance between taking precautions and still playing throughout the year, he noted.

Overall, concerts give the band students a sense of purpose and an end goal, Wisbey said. She explained that she learns a lot from rehearsals that she can apply to her future career. She said live music is important and therapeutic. 

“As for the general student population, for those who tune in to the livestreams, it’s a really nice way to escape and just listen to music for an hour,” Hammond said. “It’s great to just focus on something that isn’t one of the various problems that we’re facing right now.”

Hammond said the concerts provide an important way for the music students to connect after having gone through some of the pandemic playing by themselves. 

Prendergast said the first concert after not being able to play together in the spring of 2020 was really moving. He said he knows the students have to do extra cleaning, bring extra materials and have more general responsibilities this year, and he’s really impressed with how they’ve handled it. 

“I guess I’m just really excited to show off the students’ talent,” Prendergast said. “Truly, I mean that’s what I love about this, is being able to put concerts and things on and show off everything that these students can do, and we’re still able to do that, so I’m really proud of that.”