There are no football games, no Friday night lights. No competitions, and no touchdowns to celebrate with the fight song.
But now, for the first time in months, marching band is back at Del Norte High School.
“It’s marching band lite, I would call it,” said Dan Sedgwick, the music director at DNHS.
Earlier this month, Sedgwick and about forty of his students began practicing music and marching skills once again, after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled most school activities in the fall.
“I can’t wait to get back,” Sedgwick said. “I’m stoked.”
Of course, band practice looks different that previous years, with many members wearing face masks on the field, but Sedgwick said they’re excited to be able to make it work.
“Talk about one of the safest activities. We’re outdoors, at least six feet apart.”
Since there aren’t football games to cheer on or band competitions to travel to during the winter and spring, Sedgwick said he’s using the short, six-week season to teach freshman fundamental skills and help students maintain their form in preparation for next year’s marching band season in the fall.
“My freshmen have never marched before, and I don’t want to have two years of a lack of continuity,” Sedgwick said.
The return to the field has been a long time coming for band members.
“The first six weeks of school was the hardest,” said Sedgwick, who teaches each of the school’s band and choir classes.
During that time period, all of those classes were completely online — meaning singers, flutists and percussionists alike were limited to a teleconferenced band room, where technical difficulties, turned-off cameras and other distractions make teaching and conducting a challenge.
“It doesn’t work,” Sedgwick said. “It’s been a real struggle and I lost a few kids over it.”
Those issues don’t only create classroom challenges, but can have a real tangible impact on student learning, Sedgwick said. He’s expecting to discover some students have lost some of their skills during the period of distance learning.
“The excuses are legitimate, but I can’t get a full band class together at one time,” Sedgwick said. “Normally, I have music sitting in front of them for five hours a week.”
But things started looking up for Sedgwick’s classes around the seventh week of school, when his steel band (full of drummers, not wind instruments) was allowed to return to campus for some practices.
The difference in the quality of practice was “night and day,” he found.
After that, some other band and choir classes began returning to campus, in limited, distanced groups and often outside of school hours.
Still, there were challenges — ensembles had to meet outdoors, and the school’s open-sided tents could only do so much good with high winds or sideways rain. Somedays, Sedgwick had to cancel practice altogether.
But the biggest hit for the music programs has been social: Students have missed the chance to be with peers in their elective classes, and the competitions DNHS ensembles and students are used to traveling to were all either canceled or pushed online, too, Sedgwick said.
Now, he’s planning for what’s ahead. He’s still hoping an in-person graduation of some kind will be possible, allowing senior music students the chance to conduct pieces of their choosing, and he’s waiting to see how COVID-19 vaccinations roll out in order to plan summer band camps.
“It’s going to be amazing when we can start doing these things again,” he said.
Other activities in the district have been ramping up, too. Boys tennis teams have been practicing and competing, as have girls golf and cross country.
Some of those have taken place at the Del Norte Golf Course: Last week, cross country runners from area schools participated in a race there, and the girls golf team held a tournament there for 26 students the week before. Girls tennis, boys golf and track are all slated to begin March 8, according to the district.