Color guard, band march on with in-person practices
While most teenagers spent their summer at the beach or escaping quarantine outdoors, kids in Dartmouth High’s marching band and color guard cut their breaks short to get back to practice via Zoom, Google classroom, and — in the past couple of weeks — in person.
On Aug. 20, nearly 50 students broken into groups by instrument could be found playing for three hours in a parking lot behind the high school. The wind instruments practiced in the afternoon, and the percussion and color guard practiced separately in the evening.
Students remain socially distant — six feet apart for regular instruments, and thirteen feet for wind instruments — and masks are required for all except those who need their breath to play.
This is the second week of in-person practice since the pandemic started — but some have been working virtually almost since school let out last March.
“I let them off for two weeks,” said percussion director Tom Aungst with a laugh. “These are really good kids.”
“It’s just nice to be back, because this is what the kids enjoy,” he said. “To get out here and be social, and play and drum and feel the energy, it’s really cool. Even for me.”
Aungst noted that every single one of his students attended his classes since March 13. “I had 100% attendance,” he said. “Indoor percussion competes at world championships — so they understand what it takes.”
“I was really impressed with their dedication and commitment,” he added. “I’m lucky.”
This year is also unusual because new band director Ian Flint took over from longtime director Bill Kingsland this spring.
Flint taught in Dartmouth for nine years and came back to take on the position after five years away. And with four national championships to the school’s name, he said, “We don’t want to lose momentum.”
“Some of the seniors here, I had five years ago,” he said, smiling under his mask. “The program’s evolved even in the five years I’ve been gone...It just keeps getting better.”
As for starting the job during a pandemic, he said, “It was a lot of planning.” But he credits his staff and the kids for pulling off the in-person practices.
“The kids, from day one, they took it super seriously,” he said. “They know if they don’t follow the guidelines, they’re not able to do this.”
“And they love this,” he added. “They take a lot of pride in it.”
As for the teachers, Flint noted, “We were so excited to teach again!”
“We’re lost without being in front of students and teaching them music,” he added. “This is our passion.”
Flint said that with the pandemic, this year will look a lot different. He’s already had to cut the number of hours kids can rehearse each day from nine hours to just three.
“We’ve reduced our rehearsal time to a third of what we would normally do,” he said, adding that due to the changes, they had to cut the show to half its normal runtime.
There will also be no in-person competitions. Instead, bands across the country will compose videos of their performances to send in to a virtual competition.
“We’ll film the show at the stadium, then submit it to the adjudicators,” Flint said. “It’s a little different.”
Senior Sergio Sao Marcos, who has played trombone in the marching band for four years, said that practices are going well.
“It's just fun,” he said. “I like playing with friends.”
As for giving up part of his summer for the band, he added with a grin, “I don’t mind the heat.”
The color guard has also started in-person practices in a field behind the school. Director Addison Kaeterle said that the kids are “just excited to be out of the house.”
He noted they also tried out a virtual platform over the summer, with students given level-based assignments to complete and submit videos for feedback, as well as virtual live practices and a weekly zoom catch-up.
“It was very different. I’ve never done such a thing before,” he laughed. “A lot of the kids actually came back a lot stronger with their skillset, because a lot of them took advantage of it.”
Color guard co-captains Ryley Thatcher and Mia Paynton said that everyone is happy to be back.
“We’ve been in our houses since March now, so it’s good to be back and doing something,” said Paynton. As for the virtual experience, she said, “It’s weird when you’re still practicing but you’re not with everyone you’re used to being around.”
“I love that it feels like a family,” said Thatcher.