OHIO VALLEY — While no one knows what the future holds, marching bands in Gallia and Meigs Counties are making sure the music never stops.
With the Ohio Music Education Association canceling its sanctioning of events for the fall competition season, and all the uncertainty around the upcoming football season, band directors are taking different approaches to the fall.
Meigs director Toney Dingess is using the return to sports guidelines passed down to football earlier this summer.
“We’ve been back in session for about three weeks now with summer band,” Dingess said. “I just adapted what the football program was asked to do, so we’ve been through Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the restart of sports. We continue to take everyone’s temperature in the morning when they arrive for practice. We have socially distanced our practice area, so we have everyone sitting or standing at least six feet apart. We have a mask mandate, so everybody wears a mask when we’re not playing.
“Our administration here has been very helpful. They’ve allowed me to move my bandroom into the cafeteria, which gives us more room to spread the kids out. Anything I’ve needed they’ve helped me with, my band boosters have sent in hand sanitizing lotion and they bought a couple of sanitizing stations for my bandroom, so we’re all doing our very best to keep the students healthy and still let them have a little bit of fun.”
A week before it was scheduled to take place, the MHS band camp was canceled for the summer. Instead, the Maroon and Gold are practicing from 9 a.m. to noon, five days a week, with no outside volunteers.
For Gallia Academy and director Allyson Johnston band camp has also been canceled for the year, but adapting to the sports and health department guidelines have worked to this point.
“There’s not a whole lot of guidance to be found in the marching band world,” Johnston said. “I’ve started small sectional rehearsals, so groups of 10-or-less, and we’ve just taught them to be clean. Just like the sports teams, we’re taking their temperatures when they walk in the door. I make them wash their hands because they’re about to touch the instrument, and I make them clean their whole station when they’re done.
“My room is pretty big at the high school, so the health department allowed me to have 10 kids in there playing instruments socially distanced. We would be allowed to have them all outside, so I am going to do some groups next week outside. A lot of our things can be done that way.”
At River Valley, director John Reed is taking a different approach, following studies funded by the Nation Association of Music Manufacturers, and backed by the National Association for Music Education.
“There have been a lot unknowns and fears about what happens whenever you play a wind instrument in a group setting,” Reed said. “There have been different studies going on, the one all of us as music educators have been looking at is the one that is coming out of Colorado, that is funded by the NAMM. It’s also in conference with the NAfME as well as with other organizations. We have been looking for that study to tell us how much we can expect with wind instruments. They have said that you should take all the precautions necessary, because it can cause spread.
“They gave us guidelines and with all of those guidelines, and all the uncertainty and the fear from parents who I have heard back from, we have actually decided to go completely percussion. We’re taking out wind instruments completely for the time being.”
South Gallia is currently without a band director, but Principal Bray Shamblin noted that SGHS is keeping an eye on what’s going on in the music world.
“We have looked at what OMEA has said, and obviously they’re not having any competitions,” Shamblin said. “To my knowledge Marshall University has cancelled their band camps, band day and honors band. We’re going to try to do everything we can, but at the same time, being aware that there are health concerns when it comes to playing an instrument.
“I don’t know what the Ohio Department of Health is going to mandate for events. When we get to football games, I don’t know what the OHSAA is going to require. We’re starting meetings to discuss what we’re going to do with athletic events in our own district. Once we finalize all of those things I’ll have a clearer picture of what we’re going to do with non-essential personnel at games. When I say non-essential, I mean everybody except coaches and players.”
The Ohio Valley Conference has said that bands won’t be playing at away games this fall, and with competitions cancelled, Gallia Academy is working on some new music and hoping for a place to perform this winter.
“Since we’re not doing the competition thing, I’ve pulled out some more standard tunes and pop tunes that will kind of keep the kids interested,” Johnston said. “Obviously playing music right now is important for them. The kids are just thrilled to be playing music together. Looking forward, I’m kind of hoping things will be better by the time basketball rolls around, and maybe there could be places there where we could preform. We’re just going to have to be flexible and take any opportunity that comes our way.”
RVHS continues music education without knowing its next chance to play for fans, but Reed noted another stress on his program at this time.
“My focus isn’t on when we’re going to perform next,” Reed said. “My thing is just on getting kids in here to play, to continue their music education, and to continue on with the making of music, even if its just for ourselves at this point.
“Not only are schools in need of things, but inside those schools are music programs that were hurting for funding and resources before all of this happened. There are still programs, including mine, that are still looking for donations of instruments or financial assistance.”
Meigs will be prepared if they are asked to play when the Marauders take the gridiron for first time this fall.
“We are planing on doing a football band, we’re just kind of waiting to see what the mandate is on football, if there’s spectators allowed, or if bands can play,” Dingess said. “That’s up in the air, but we’re preparing as if we’re going to play. We have a ‘plan c’ if that doesn’t work out, and if that doesn’t work out we’ll drop back to ‘plan d’. Everybody is in the same boat, sort of playing things by ear and making things happen for the students moving forward as best as we can.”
When you do see the Marauder Band march again, don’t be surprised if it’s slightly smaller than you remember.
“Our numbers are down by about 20,” Dingess said. “We should have had about 95 this summer and we’ve had 75. I understand that, of course there’s a lot of concern with parents and kids. The new students coming in, we didn’t really get a chance to recruit them as we usually do and remind them to sign up for band. We lost some numbers there’s no doubt about that, but it was expected.”
Johnston believes Gallia Academy’s numbers have also taken a hit from school letting out early last spring.
“I think some people are truly nervous about the virus and don’t want to put their kid at risk, and I think the other half is just lack of consistency,” Johnston said. “We haven’t seen these kids on a regular basis since March, so maybe they’ve fallen out with their friend group that may have been there.”
The Raider band will also be a bit smaller, and Reed explained why there’s more to it than just fear of the virus.
“Our numbers are down because of this whole situation,” Reed said. “Not only are parents leery of sending their child into this kind of situation inside the school building, but they also have different situations. Parents may have preexisting conditions, so their kids are going virtually, and we have people in economic distress that have children taking summer jobs to help out with the family expenses.”
Regardless of location, number of members or when they’ll get to perform again, the work continues for marching bands.
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Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.