Letter from the Director regarding Covid-19 Fallout

To: OCHS Band members and incoming freshmen; Band parents
From: Brad Rogers
Subj: Covid-19 fallout
Date: April 26, 2020
I know the last few weeks have been a mixture of lost opportunity, disappointment, confusion, emotion, unexpected and unwanted change, and maybe even a little fear.  I’ve been involved in public education and teaching band for over 40 years, and have never experienced a situation like the one we are currently dealing with.  It truly is impossible to teach “band” without having an ensemble together.  The very definition of the word band implies a collegial connection that results in a common outcome for the group; band as it relates to music absolutely requires that interaction in real time between the performers to achieve its true goal.
So, under the current circumstances, teachers and students have been relegated to “making it up” as we go.  The targets of learning and growing in every discipline have been affected by the following:
            The uncertainty of the potential date to return to school (we do know this now…)
            The availability of connectivity to online resources and equipment
            The degree of parental involvement in making sure students are trying
            The ability of teachers to construct and provide relevant instruction without overdoing it
            The willingness of students to give solid effort toward what they are being asked to do
Most folks can come up with even more things that run alongside the few I’ve mentioned above. 
There is still an enormous amount of the unknown, specifically for our band program.  I’ll attempt to address some of that in the following.  Please read all the way to the end, and reach out to me with any questions or concerns at your earliest convenience.
1) Band awards banquet, graduation, final performances

None of these events will happen this spring, as we’re not allowed to gather in groups.      The awards we normally use to recognize all band members at our traditional banquet will still be presented, but the format for doing so will be quite different and is yet to be    fully developed—we are not going to just “move on” without these important recognitions.  Graduation adjustments will be something that is determined by people above my pay grade, but we can assume the band will not be involved in any live performance.  Final jazz and band concerts have been canceled and won’t be
performed this year.
2) Placement auditions

Will not be performed this year.  All upperclassmen returning to our program for 2020-21 will be placed in the 7th period band class, with all incoming freshmen placed in 6th period band (all percussionists regardless of grade will be in Percussion Techniques).  This is exactly as it was done in 2010-11, when we instituted the 6th period band as a training group for the advanced band; placement auditions were actually implemented in the 2011-12 school year.  The addition of section coaches for every instrument and placement of students in a group appropriate for their level of development are the reasons we have progressed as a total program.  So, in effect, the covid-19 pandemic will take our program back about a decade in terms of its structure—not good, but not the end of the world.  It will be necessary to utilize some 7th period band students to perform with the 6th period band dependent upon instrumentation balance, but that is much like what we do when taking major trips in which individuals may or may not participate.  For 2021-22, we’ll go back to the placement audition format and move on.
3) Summer band rehearsals

Until I receive instructions from higher-ups, I cannot tell you anything with certainty. For now, you should plan to begin summer rehearsals on July 6th as originally announced, Monday and Thursday nights from 6:00-8:30.  We’ll see if they are allowed, and under what constraints if any.  We will work out a process for checking out marching band instruments (mellophones, baritones, percussion, etc.) coordinated with the ending of school year; that way, you’ll at least have them to practice with at home if we’re left with that as our only option.
4) Band Camp (July 27-31 at OCHS)

Still a question mark.  If we are allowed to gather in large groups, even that may not fit with rehearsing an ensemble of over 100 people together, outside or inside.  If smaller group work is allowed, I may have to completely restructure the schedule for the week to accommodate sectionals rather than full band, partial day or a rotation of time inside/outside with the small groups, etc.  We don’t even know for sure if or when football games can be played, or if they are, if fans will be allowed to attend!  Marching Band will likely be different, and teaching drill may have to wait until we can actually do it with the full band—if we can do it at all.
5) What will the 2020-21 school year look like?

Who knows at this point?  There are all sorts of ideas floating around, none of which are conducive to having band as a full ensemble—as anyone in band knows, you really can’t have it without everyone involved together.  Split-day schedules, A/B days, rotating class schedules and more online learning are among the things that might be considered.  We will have to be very intentional in adjusting to whatever is decided.  Hopefully, people like band and choir directors at all levels will have a voice in the process.  I’m not very confident at this point (end of April) that we will begin the year like we did in 2019-20.
6) 2021 is a “trip year” for the band…

I’m still hopeful that we will be allowed to travel next spring, and have begun the planning for this with our travel service provider and the Band Boosters.  However, we can’t begin to discuss how much it will cost, or where we might go until much later than I’d like.  Usually by now, we’ve already received board approval for such an undertaking, and have put together payment schedules, etc. so families can plan appropriately.  I will not put us in a position to commit any money to a trip until I’m certain it can actually happen, and will insist that travel cancellation insurance be part of any travel package    we agree to.  None of this can happen until we get direction from the board on this, and honestly, they have bigger issues to deal with in getting us back in school first. 
7) Student retention

This is actually my biggest concern coming out of this unprecedented situation. Because the connection between players and the every-day work we do in ensemble rehearsals has been completely broken and will remain so for the foreseeable future, there is no perfect way for me as a director to ensure students are really doing all that’s musically necessary for their success.  Some students practice every day as part of who they are; others practice when they “have to” (like cramming for a test); and some NEVER play the instrument outside the normal class activity.  This last group (thankfully small) is in band for reasons, that while valid, are not musically oriented.  Without being held accountable by the pressure of performing together in the group, it is this last group of  students who are most in jeopardy of returning once we’re given the opportunity. 
I’m especially concerned for both the “socially oriented” members we currently have in our program, and for incoming 9th graders who have not yet had a high school experience.  Going through what will amount to one quarter of your school year without playing together in band and not practicing on your own will result in many of these students simply putting the instrument in their past—creating a situation where unrealized potential is the result for all concerned. 
As difficult as it is to retain even our most dedicated musicians in the face of academic and scheduling pressures, it is just as important to bring these students on the fringe of what we are really about into the fold, and keep them there.  Any influence from our current “band kids” or “band parents” on these folks to encourage them to come back and be a part of the rebirth of our school in the coming months will be very important. 
In the coming days, you will be receiving a number of important items from me or your middle school directors.  Please take the time to read them carefully, watch any videos presented, and reach out to me with any questions or concerns.
Thanks for getting all the way “to the bottom”!  I’m looking forward to putting this thing back together, and soon!
Brad Rogers
[email protected]