FAIRMONT — Despite having coverings over their mouths and their horns, members of the East Fairmont High Busy Bee Band are still able to project their scales and their songs to the back row during practice.
Logan Irons, a senior saxophonist, said the band is taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as best as possible, and although it is a change to have to wear a mask while making music, the result is not much different than regular practice.
“I think it’s going pretty good,” Irons said. “We had a rocky start at the beginning but now everything has evened out. Everyone is wearing masks, everyone has their instrument covered at the horn.”
With county school sports teams now practicing this summer, marching bands have begun to hold rehearsals as well, in preparation for football season. In order to maintain safety, the band leaders have enforced rules that limit contact between instrumentalists but still allow for practicing and rehearsing.
TJ Bean, director of the Busy Bee Band, said he has the students come at staggered times to maintain smaller group size, and all practices are held outdoors.
“We’re just really leaning on the cautious side,” Bean said. “We have all the kids wearing masks, they have cut a small hole in their mask to accommodate their mouthpiece. Their instruments have coverings on them so nothing can exit the instrument.”
John Schneider, band director of the Fairmont Senior High Polar Bear Band, said he is in a similar situation. He has the kids spaced out during practices to maintain social distancing, among other safety precautions.
“We’re doing a lot of things that are different,” Schneider said. “We’re keeping kids spread out and they have masks. None of the equipment this year is allowed to be shared.”
The West Virginia Board of Education and the state government issued rules on school functions that included band practices. Bean said the Busy Bee Band would normally have started practice earlier this summer had the pandemic not arrived. He said one of the challenges so far is building the confidence of incoming freshmen, and their relationships with the upperclassmen.
“They have to adapt a lot, and that’s one of the challenges we’re facing,” Bean said. “We break them up into smaller groups, I have been using some student leaders to run those smaller groups, and they get time to know their freshman and bond with upperclassmen. It’s working out; I’m proud of our kids.”
Irons said he believes the freshmen are doing a good job adapting, considering the situation.
“This group of freshmen are doing a lot better than previous years,” Irons said. “They want to be here, it seems like, and it’s absolutely no trouble.”
Bean and Schneider said they are doing the best they can to make band practices safe at this time, even though the normal opportunities to perform are currently in question. However, they both said the students seem to be happy to be back and able to practice and play together.
“There are some changes but really by and large it’s just really nice to have the kids able to practice,” Schneider said. “We really are taking the extra mile to keep these kids safe.”
Bean said the students have been taking the changes in stride, and none have complained about the concessions they have to make for safety.
“I have not heard one complaint from any of our students,” Bean said. “Not about the masks, the instrument coverings, the fact that they’re out in the hot sun. The students have been fantastic.”
Irons said he was happy to get to return to some form of normalcy, even though band practice has a slightly different look than last year. He said the shows are already coming along well, and he is looking forward for the chance to perform.
“It’s not going to be as big as last year’s; last year’s was our 50th,” Irons said. “But it’s going to be great, I think it’s going to be good.
“I’m just happy to be back playing music,” Irons said.