Band and Choir Performances Return Full Forte


Submitted by Dan Schmidt

Viking Marching band warms up before performing their 2019 field show

As life slowly starts seeping back into the world, music students start making their way back to the Stoughton High School music wing. Dust has been blown off of instrument cases, practice rooms have been unlocked, band uniforms hang neatly in their lockers, and finally, after months of silence, voices and instruments can be heard from all corners of the wing. Music is back.
This is great news for the Stoughton High School band and choir groups, who could not play as a full group for months due to COVID-19 concerns and county restrictions. The last performance choir held was the soloist-based Pops Concert in February 2020. The last band performance before lockdown was a traveling performance at Milton High School for the Conference Band Festival. Later that same day, it was announced that the Stoughton Area School district would be sending all students home for the time being due to COVID-19. Little did they know that it would be months before musicians from all areas of the Stoughton High School Music Programs could perform together again.
Excitement, along with challenges, comes with the return of full ensemble rehearsals and performances. Dan Schmidt, Stoughton High School’s band director, says that the most frustrating thing about having a full ensemble again is having to take extra time to make sure all band students are compliant with county COVID-19 guidelines. This includes making sure musicians are wearing masks modified with slits to fit mouthpieces. On top of that, band students must make sure the bells of their instruments have the proper aerosol-reducing coverings and that they are physically distanced from one another.
“It’s super frustrating to not be able to walk into the room and a few minutes later, everybody’s playing,” Schmidt says.
Ryan Casey, the Stoughton High School choir director, is also facing some challenges within the choir. Like band students, choir students in rehearsal are required to spread out to comply with social distancing guidelines, which can cause flaws in performance.
“You’re not hearing your full section around you because you’re spread out and you’re wearing a mask. [It’s] really hard to sing with the mask,” Casey says.
Casey explains this distance has an even bigger impact on people who are new to choir. Not being able to hear their peers puts them at a disadvantage. Casey is also struggling with class numbers. His non-auditioned Chorale class usually has about 50 students, this year it only has 28.
“There’s comfort in numbers when it comes to choir, so it’s a different beast,“ Casey explains.
However, where there are struggles, there are ways to adapt. Both Schmidt and Casey have found ways to overcome the challenges of the past few years. The most important thing for Casey was communication and class involvement. Because many students were uncomfortable recording themselves singing, the class worked together to come up with assignments.
“It was unique, but it worked.” Casey says.
Like Casey, Schmidt was forced to find alternate ways to teach band students when they couldn’t play together. During the spring semester of 2020, he shifted the classes’ focus towards the technical side of playing. This included using online platforms such as SightReading Factory to improve the student’s sight reading skills. Then in the 2020-2021 school year that focus shifted again.
“The strategy last year was how can we play together, whilst not playing together,” Schmidt explains. “What can we do to have students play from their home?”
Assuming Dane County guidelines remain the same, the first formal, in-person choir concert in two years is scheduled to take place on Nov. 4. Band has already had three performances, all at Collins Field during home football games. The Symphonic band will be performing their field show, Pictures at An Exhibition, for the first time at the homecoming football game on Oct. 1. Their first formal band performance will be held on Dec. 2.
It has been a difficult two years in the music department, but hopes are high and excitement dances in the air to the sounds of drums, winds, voices, horns, and strings. Performance dates and times for all music groups can be found under the music section on the district website.