Playing the pandemic

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By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com

A pandemic has not canceled music classes nor band at Auburn High School.

Deanna Marshall has been teaching at the high school for four years, and before that she was at Drake Middle School.

She teaches five classes, three concert band classes, a jazz band class and marching band.

Changes had to be made to classes that require motion and musical instruments so as not to spread COVID-19.

In the spring, students had just finished up their spring concert when spring break began. No one came back after that break, thanks to the start of the pandemic.

Just like administrators had to make sure students had laptops and internet access in March, Marshall had to make sure students had instruments.

“Most of the students, at that point, had taken their instruments home, but some of them left them here so that was one of the obstacles that we had to overcome moving forward into the quarantine was getting those students their instruments so that they could participate in some kind of online or virtual class,” she said.

The classes Marshall teaches are performance based, which makes it difficult to practice and learn virtually. Too, in the spring, students had to audition for band placements for the fall.

When classes began in the fall, one change was that they were all held outside, she said.

“Everything was done outside,” Marshall said. “We didn’t have any classes inside the band room at all or in the buildings. Even if it rained, we were under awnings and I did that the entire first nine weeks. So it was hot and it was really sunny some days. And some days it rained and we pushed through and we made it happen.”

A group of parent volunteers stepped up to make bell covers for all the instruments, Marshall said, which allowed them to move inside.

A bell cover is almost like a mask that fits over the instrument that helps to contain spread.

“Three or four of our parents got together and we measured all the bells of the instruments and they sat and sewed and sewed and sewed until we had enough for all the marching band and all of our concert, inside band instruments,” Marshall said.

One of the challenges that Marshall and her classes faced after moving indoors was having students who needed to quarantine.

“At any given football game or any given rehearsal or class time, I could be missing between five and 25 students, which was huge because you rely on that person on the field and especially when it’s one of our student leaders like our drum majors,” she said. “… Some of the greatest challenges is just with student absences and having to tell a child, ‘I’m so sorry, you can’t come with us to the state championship game because you just got quarantined.’ And it broke a few hearts, I will tell you that.”

Adversity prompts growth and Marshall said it is rewarding to watch students adapt to the new situations.

“The most rewarding things are the first time we marched all the way through the halftime show or when we got to have our jazz band concert in October,” she said.

Of course, the challenges are not over. There is another semester to go in the 2020/2021 school year and the pandemic has not ended.

“Second semester is sometimes more busy and typically more busy than first semester, so there are still those challenges that we have to face of having auditions for our color guard, our drum majors, our drum line, and some of those we had to do virtually last year and so we want to make sure we have a better virtual option for that,” Marshall said.

There may be both virtual and in-person auditions this upcoming season. All-star auditions will be held via an app, she said, which is something new that will be incorporated into the spring semester.

“The product that has been presented in this first semester, for the virtual students, has been wonderful,” Marshall said. “And not that the teachers weren’t doing everything before but they really got behind the virtual thing and made it work for those students and so I know Auburn City Schools is working to make us, the teachers, successful and their students.”

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