Tents and Trombones: The music department finds a new rhythm amidst the pandemic

by Mackenzie P.

Ms. Noerenberg, who has been with the Duxbury High School Music Department for more than 25 years, and Mr. Collins, who is starting his third year as a full-time music teacher with Duxbury, are tackling what they agreed is one of their greatest professional challenges yet: accommodating band class around the coronavirus. As current band teachers at DHS, they are dynamically teaching music during a pandemic with various modifications to ensure students’ safety. Despite changes, “they have found ways to make band work this year” according to a senior in the Wind Ensemble, Devin R.

Until August, Ms. Noerenberg and Mr. Collins had been preparing for indoor playing. The release of DESE guidelines around August prohibiting this prompted these teachers to generate ideas for outdoor playing with just about a month before the school’s reopening.

Music department meetings rose in frequency from once a month to two to three times a week, ultimately producing a solution: distanced playing in a 110 x 50 foot outdoor tent, located on the lawn in front of Duxbury High School’s entrance. While wind can be a challenge despite the use of stakes to hold music stands down and clips to keep sheet music in place, there are many positives to come along with playing together again, even outside.

“It’s always a plus to make music with our students,” Mr. Collins said, “but to also get a warm fall day and plenty of fresh air is so nice.”

Thanks to the tent, students are able to rehearse even on rainy days, and those virtual for the day play along with the band from their homes via Zoom. Mr. Collins and Ms. Noerenberg’s previous outdoor experience with school marching and community bands in conjunction with collaboration between other musicians and music groups across the country dealing with similar circumstances made the transition as smooth as possible.

Within the last few weeks, band made the switch to indoor playing thanks to the go-ahead from the DESE, with only a week between announcing the transition and implementing it. Adequate spacing between ensemble members and the wearing of masks with slits for instruments has allowed for this transition.

“While we would prefer to get a few months of doing the same routine,” Mr. Collins said, “we are very grateful to get to finally return indoors where we will be able to hear, play, and teach better.”

This past Wednesday, band was able to perform together with both cohorts of students for their first concert this year. This event was livestreamed from the tent outdoors in order to accommodate numbers of students, and there were no in-person audience members.

From these different circumstances, there are new opportunities. Splitting each band into two cohorts has provided more students with opportunities to shine; in some cases, there is only one player of a certain instrument per cohort, making everything a solo.

“The most normal aspect of being outside is when we pick up our instruments and play,” said senior Devin R. “We are no longer focused on the unique circumstances around us,” he continued, “and instead on our instruments.”

Mr. Collins and Ms. Noerenberg described the feeling after the first day playing together again as having the capability to shed happy tears.

“It’s the students we missed the most during quarantine and getting whatever time we can with them now has been fantastic,” Mr. Collins said.

The feeling appears to be mutual, as Devin R. said, “The music department has done everything right.” He added, “COVID affects each person/group differently, and the band department job has been an outstanding example of how to overcome challenges.”

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