Band instructors get innovative

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By ANTHONY FLORES

In the time of COVID-19, education has been one of the areas most affected by safety precautions imposed throughout the country.

Despite the restrictions of a pandemic, LHISD band instructors worked hard to find new and creative ways to continue helping their students grow and indulge their musical passions.

With the help of the internet, instructors continued to communicate with their students, giving them assignments, curating playlists of music to follow, and in some ways creating a more personal one-on-one experience.

“There are a lot of different aspects of music than just playing your instrument,” said LHISD Director of Bands John Perrin. “There’s composing, there are listening and lots of different things you can do collaboratively or individually to explore different aspects of music.”

For Perrin, one of the keys to growing as a musician is the exposure to other styles and genres of music. With the help of YouTube, he was able to share a lot with students.

“One of the things that we did is create a playlist on YouTube of really widely varying types and styles of music from tube and throat singing music to jazz, rock, country, and classical,” he said. “We try to get them to listen to a lot of different styles and then make intelligent comments on them like ‘I heard this type of instrument and this type of singing,’ at the end of it they can say if they liked it or didn’t like it.”

Radio can expose students to a wide variety of music, but there are limitations to the types of genres. In some cases, students don’t use the radio at all, preferring streaming services like Spotify or Apple music. While both offer a lot of variety, it may take some initial exposure to get students listening to more than their standard genres.

“If you just turn on the radio, you’re not going to hear a wide-ranging type of music necessarily, it’s pretty much country or rock,” said Perrin. “You have to search out classical music and reggae. Otherworld music and stuff like that isn’t on the radio.”

While it was a fun experience for students, Perrin also enjoyed the job of curating playlists.

“It was a fun experiment for me to go and find stuff that was interesting from those different cultures and styles,” he said. “I hope they were able to get something out of that.”

By taking advantage of different online tools, students are also being allowed to create the music they want.

“We also found online resources that were free for the kids so they could compose their music,” said Perrin. “You listen to music on the radio or wherever and think ‘I could do that, it doesn’t seem that hard,’ but when you sit down and try to do it and realize how hard it is.”

Perrin and his students have discussed music composition and theory in class before, but allowing them to indulge in their creativity gives them a taste of what they can expect.

“Some of the kids have experience with (composing) before. We’ve talked about It in class before, but we want them actually to try and sit down and put those things together,” he said. “I got some pretty interesting projects back. One of them wrote a trumpet quartet and was proud of it; one tried to put together a piece together with all the instruments.”

The coordination for adjusting to the pandemic restrictions didn’t just limit itself to Liberty Hill; it was a nationwide effort that many instructors took part in, sharing various ways they were going about their teachings.

“The cool thing about the music community is that we were able to call different people, and a lot of emails went out from different associations. Everybody was sharing different ideas,” said Perrin. “There were a lot of people posting on the internet saying things like ‘this is what I did with my kids, and it worked great,’ or ‘Hey, we did this, and it worked.’ We had a lot of different connections across the state and the country that we could pull from.”

Away from the high school, intermediate, and junior high-level band teachers Lisa Hill and Jared Clarkson worked to keep their band students engaged.

“At the intermediate level, the sixth-grade level, Mrs. Hill put together choice boards,” said Perrin. “At the junior high-level, Mr. Clarkson came up with a virtual contest where you get points for different music aspects, kind of a competition to keep kids engaged. There was a lot of collaboration.”

Students embraced the different methods used and, based on feedback to Perrin, and other instructors enjoyed being able to express themselves a bit more freely. Sending videos to instructors and removing the nerves of being in front of their peers allowed for some more confidence.

“Self-expression was the most important thing to those kids,” he said. “You could see in the way they were making their recordings that they wanted it to be their style. The self-expression is what came across the most to me.”

A common issue throughout all education levels using online methods for classes, from elementary to college, is the issue of access to tools and high-speed internet. For Perrin, this proved to be the toughest challenge to bypass.

“I think the hardest part of the whole thing is access for kids because not every household is the same,” he said. “In Liberty Hill, a lot of parents are working from home, and broadband might not be great. If kids are trying to watch videos and submit videos while mom and dad are trying to work, that’s a no go.”

Aside from access to the internet, the family situation for some students made it a challenge as well.

“Some parents are essential workers and still had to leave the house, so some of the kids had to be babysitters,” said Perrin. “Some of my seniors had to get jobs because they might have a parent out of work.”

Students are making time and putting in the effort to complete and turn in their assignments, even if it means staying late.

“A lot of students would say, ‘I can’t do anything until Saturday when my mom or dad is off the internet,’” said Perrin. “We talked to some assistant principals, and most of the work gets done between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. because that’s when the internet is free.”

Working under the assumption that things will be back to normal for the following school year, Perrin and his fellow band instructors are creating a curriculum as they usually would. Despite going back to the standard way of things, the band director has a few things he plans to keep and incorporate into lessons.

“We’re planning for everything to be regular, but if it’s not then, we’ll adjust. We have the marching band music right now, and we’ll be pushing that out in the next week or so, and we’ll give students a schedule for fall.”

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