CALGARY – Western Canada High School in the Beltline neighborhood of Calgary has the largest music program in town and prepares to resume rehearsals as it adjusts to the new reality of the pandemic.
Alberta Education has outlined its back to school strategy during the COVID-19 outbreak and will be handing out two masks to each student and teacher.
Instruments that can be played with a mask, like drums and strings, will be scattered around the band room as in previous years, but for the instruments in the wind and brass sections that require breath, the high school band will look great different.
“Students will take their instruments home and play lots of live action at home,” said Brendan Hagan, director of visual and performing arts and band director at WCHS.
The incoming 12th grade student, Elaine Gentleman, has been playing French horn for five years but won’t be able to play it live on campus with the ensemble next month.
“I’ll be sad that I can’t play it here but I’ll definitely play it at home and make sure I’m ready when we can,” she said.
That doesn’t mean she’ll be sitting completely outside.
You and other students who need an embossing to play their instruments receive drumsticks and a rhythm pad with which they can “tap” along their parts.
Hagan will also teach conducting to give students a better understanding of how he has led the musical groups at westerns for nearly a decade.
His courses also place more emphasis on studying music and how it is used for film and television, among other things.
“It will offer a deeper level of understanding of music,” said Hagan.
“(This will) be really important in keeping students engaged and excited about what they are doing as we move into the year with everyday changes.”
Technology as a teaching tool
Private music teachers quickly switched to online video sessions last March and expect them to continue helping with the high school band’s music.
“We want our children to play as much as possible during this pandemic,” said Amanda Kinnear, who teaches clarinet and saxophone.
She started using a video editing tool where students play multiple parts of a piece of music – essentially recording a duet with themselves – which she thought was a helpful tool.
Hagan also expects recordings and uploads to the school’s software platform to help with grading and teaching.
The high school has already used a web music program that is expected to return in September.
“It’s like karaoke to us, we play our roles and we have the sheet music and can hear the rest of the band which was really cool, but we never play together but it was as good as it gets,” he told Gentleman.
For vocal instruments, plans for the choir have yet to be finalized, says Hagan.
According to the Alberta government website, “Singing is a high-risk activity because infected people can transmit the virus through their saliva or breath droplets.”
Last year there were 330 students in the Western Canada High School’s band program.