Band adapts to social distancing protocols with nontraditional summer camp


Courtesy of Zach Kanevski

Director of Bands Garth Gundersen instructs a group of students through Zoom. Since the official band camp has ended, the program has continued to host rehearsals allowing students to practice their skills and strengthen their bonds with peers.

In years past, marching together in the sweltering heat of Austin summers, band students united to practice creating their symphony of music. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the band to meet through the virtual classroom of Zoom, rather than together in person, band directors, student leaders, and regular band members alike have all put forth their share of effort to ensure the same level of musical success and comradeship could be achieved.

Last week on Friday, Aug. 14, the two week virtual band camp came to a conclusion. Directors and student leaders instructed students through Zoom calls to help refresh them on music playing, strengthen the bonds between members, and introduce incoming ninth graders to the program.

“Summer band camp is a great time to build our team spirit, it’s a great time to work on skills without the academic pressures of the year,” Director of Bands Garth Gundersen said. “So that [students], especially the eighth graders who are coming in, have lots of time to meet the upperclassmen and become acclimated with our program.”

Since the band camp needed to be virtual this year, directors and students combined various methods of teaching to keep students engaged. Asynchronous learning doesn’t take place at the same place or time, while synchronous learning has students learning together at the same time.

“Virtual band camp so far has consisted of a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning through Zoom,” junior Zach Kanevski said. “We do a student-led workout through Zoom in the morning, then give video assignments for students to do on their own time. In the afternoons, students join Zooms and breakout rooms specific to their instruments and go over music for band led by our directors.”

Along with the focus on music playing, especially this year, extra effort has gone into the social aspect of band, given that students are only able to interact virtually.

“We’re in the business of people,” Gundersen said. “So we’ve tried to take care of the people in the program as much as we can. We’ve probably invested more time on the social side because we know that music for the band students and the choir students and the orchestra students is a home away from home.”

Senior student leader and drum major Jack Bueide expressed that the dependency on technology has posed unique obstacles.

“Unfortunately, this year’s camp is virtual, so it brings a whole new world of issues,” Bueide said. “A lot of times, people will lag out of zoom calls and things like that, but we combat this issue by having our leaders come to camp prepared to jump in at any time in case of a glitch.”

As described by senior student leader Kyle Thomas, he believes that many students have felt unmotivated to participate in this nontraditional form of band camp.

“Me and much of the other leadership team have had problems with morale and attendance,” Thomas said. “As much as we try to make it as fun and engaging as possible, the fact that one of our four performance years is mostly gone bums pretty much everyone out.”

Aware of these issues, student leaders have attempted to address them for the camp and the upcoming year.

“As a leader in this camp, our role is really about trying to motivate others around us to push forward,” Bueide said. “While we do teach sometimes and solve problems that we see, our main goal right now has been motivation.”

Band students rehearse a musical piece over the online platform Zoom. While it is unknown if band will have competitions this year, Band of Directors Garth Gundersen has expressed his dedication to ensuring that the students continue to improve their abilities and enjoy time together as a community. (Photo by: Courtesy of Zach Kanevski)

The future of band and the possibility of in-person performances are still in the air as the pandemic continues to fluctuate in its severity.

“We have to rethink that competing is not the most important thing: music making is the most important thing, connecting with your friends is the most important thing,” Gundersen said. “We’re going to continue with music learning and we hope that our students love music and that they love their instruments enough that [those passions] will motivate them through the program.”

Reflecting on the purpose of the camp and looking ahead, Gundersen provides reassurance for his students.

“It’s a huge challenge and I don’t know that I have the answers,” Gundersen said, “I just know that we’ll continue to evolve and change the answer to suit the needs of our students and continue to motivate them to be the best musicians they can be in this really challenging year.”