The Drake administration granted the band program special permission to conduct in-person rehearsals during the University’s two-week period of remote learning.
Despite the Jan. 11 decision that all classes, campus activities and events were to be held remotely until Feb. 6, a handful of fine arts programs — including both of Drake’s concert bands — were allowed to continue in-person rehearsals for the first two weeks of the spring semester.
“There is such latency in our current internet system that there’s no way online rehearsals can take place simultaneously with everyone at home playing their instrument,” said Drake Director of Bands Dr. Robert Meunier. “There is no way to get us all in-sync so that we are playing together.”
Meunier said that upon learning the news that Drake was shutting down all in-person instruction, the music and theater department chairs drafted a plan for the continuation of safe, in-person band rehearsals.
Music Chair Dr. James Romain said, “Detailed protocols were developed in conjunction with Drake’s Environmental Health and Safety Office that addressed bioaerosol spread considerations, and also ensured effective teaching could take place.”
According to Meunier, this plan required all in-person participants to follow the same COVID guidelines which have been in place since last semester which required masks to be worn by all players and instructors not actively blowing into an instrument.
Additionally, students who were participating in remote learning or had COVID concerns had the option to watch the first two weeks of rehearsals happen via Zoom.
“I have stressed that any students who are uncomfortable with in-person instruction and want to go on Zoom are more than welcome to do that,” Meunier said.
Both Romain and Meuiner spoke of the extensive research that the fine arts program has done to ensure band rehearsals are not posing risk to the students involved.
For example, Meunier said they have been closely following a series of studies conducted by the College Band Directors National Association which show that, to date, there have been no COVID outbreaks that can be attributed to bands or in-person music rehearsal.
Romain said the Drake administration gave “zero pushback, thankfully” to the plan and protocols that he and the theater chair, John Pomeroy, proposed. “The obstacles posed to lesson and ensemble instruction were severe. Necessary during the height of the pandemic … but seemingly not necessary at this time,” he said.
While the majority of Drake musicians took advantage of the in-person rehearsals, nearly two dozen band students had to watch over Zoom because they were not back on campus or had health concerns.
One such student was Sophia Miller, a percussionist in the Symphonic Band who was learning remotely from her hometown in Texas. She agreed with Romain about the severe obstacles of online rehearsal.
“I think that any musician can say that having a math lecture on Zoom and having a rehearsal on Zoom are two entirely different things,” Miller said. “The whole point of playing music together is to play it together, and when we’re all in different places, that quality is just shot. We end up just sitting there listening to distorted warp for x amount of minutes.”
After a week back to fully in-person rehearsals, several students and instructors have expressed relief that the first two weeks of instruction were not lost. However, Meunier said that he and the other fine arts professors “have always been most concerned about student health and student safety.” With the protocols they had in place, the bands were able to continue learning effectively while staying protected, safe and healthy.