Band Teachers Work to Keep Kids Playing Amid COVID-19 Restrictions


For Lewis County school districts, getting kids back into the classroom has been challenging, and for students involved in band or choir, participating in their musical outlet this school year has been unlike any other. 

Even if students were back at school in person, on a hybrid model in the fall, playing instruments or singing was not allowed by the state until mid-January. Nowadays, there is a 30-minute limit on playing and singing time, students must be seated 9 feet apart, special masks must be worn, there are room ventilation requirements and the band students must have a special covering over the end of the instrument. 

At the Centralia School District, band and choir classes are virtual and taking place via Zoom until students begin on a hybrid learning model in mid-March. 

“The choral teacher has also been working with the ukulele, as it is harder to sing as a group in Zoom,” Centralia School District Superintendent Dr. Lisa Grant said. “It is a challenge.”

Students in the Centralia band are able to keep their instruments at home to practice, but this year the pep band is not playing at any athletic events because of the 200-person limit on the events. 

David Stingley, who has been the Onalaska band and choir director for the past 17 years, has been working to teach students the music and prepare them for the upcoming football game, where the pep band will play for the first time this year. 

“There are a lot of kids who don’t do anything else besides band, so it’s helped them become happier and they’re actually doing better in school and they want to come to school,” Stingley said.

Onalaska’s 36-member high school band is preparing to play at the March 12 football game. Stingley decided that the band will play from just behind the football stadium fence in an effort to allow more seating for parents and football spectators since there is limited capacity.

“The kids will get to play and support the team without taking up seats,” Stingley said.

Since playing instruments and singing was not allowed by the state before mid-January, Stingley used that time to teach students about music theory, rhythm studies, music in movies and the history of jazz. 

In Stingley’s choir class, the students sing with masks and must stand 9 feet apart. He said that students having to sing through the masks has made the more reserved singers sing louder.

Even though this year has been challenging for band and choir classes, and many things in his classroom are controlled by outside circumstances, Stingley said he still enjoys teaching students music. 

“I love being a band teacher even though there are frustrating times. I treat every pep band game like a mini-concert and I say ‘let’s show the people of Onalaska what we can do.’ I love the look on a student’s face when they struggle with something and they finally get it,” he said.

The band at the Mossyrock School District is much smaller this year — made up of five members — but they still play at football games. The high school band slimmed down to about half the previous year’s size and there is no longer a middle school band.

Daniel Ayotte, the K-12 music and high school band teacher at Mossyrock School District, will hop on a needed instrument to help fill out the sound during football games. 

“Since we’re not having concerts, there’s just not the same excitement,” Ayotte said. “Losing those members — it does have an impact. With music, it can lead to improved math scores and there’s a lot of social-emotional learning and working together. A lot of these soft skills that music offers, that I feel are important and our world needs right now, are being lost.”



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