The show must go on: Local band director explains orchestrating during pandemic

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They've adapted by using virtual practice and splitting the band in two to accommodate social distancing

BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – A lot of things look different today, especially when it comes to school and how students learn and play. When it comes to the band, it’s no different, especially after band members weren’t able to rehearse outside anymore.

“The biggest challenge currently is trying to keep a complete ensemble,” said Tom Ruggieri, director of bands at Boardman High School.

A student could be missing for at least 10 days due to the coronavirus. To keep the show going and make sure everyone practices, they meet daily, whether that’s distanced in-person or virtually.

“Most of them are in school. There are a lot who are remote all the time, but the ones who are in-school are here four days a week,” Ruggieri said.

Another challenge they’ve overcome was keeping a six-foot distance. In the past, members of the band would sit close by for two reasons: one, to hear each other so that they could blend and balance their sound; and two, to accommodate everyone on-stage.

“It’s particularly challenging for jazz ensemble, but at least we get to play every day that the kids are here, and we’re getting through it,” Ruggieri said. “We have two band rooms, one big and one smaller, and we had to split the whole band membership into two concert bands.”

He also said students have stepped up and started self policing when it comes to disinfecting.

Everyone also has their own instruments, except for the percussionists due to the size of some of the instruments. To counteract that, the percussion players all have their own set of sticks.

“The remote students, we encourage them to get a school-owned instrument,” Ruggieri said. “For most everybody else, we’ve been able to find something for them to have at home. Percussion, there’s a lot of big stuff here…but if they have a snare drum and a set of bells they can participate with us.”

As time goes on and the instruments get used every day, they require service from vendors. Ruggieri said that relationship has adapted to make sure everyone is safe.

“We still need supplies, and the vendors have been very good about not making regular visits, instead only coming when we need them,” Ruggieri said.

Frankie Fordeley, the owner of Fordeley’s music in Champion, said business has severely dropped off and being able to repair instruments has been a saving grace. He encourages everyone to support local music shops for lessons and quality instruments.

“I had a lot of teachers over the years that taught me to do repairs,” Fordeley said. “I’ve built guitars and that helps me a lot, and drum sets, but if it wasn’t for all of that learning over the years, being able to repair everything instruments and stuff, that’s been my secret to my success.”

Fordeley also said they have experienced situations where schools are not having instruments repaired by local shops and band directors are instead trying their hand at doing it themselves to save some money.

“I can’t push how important it is to buy locally and support these music stores because we’ve been at it for years, and years, and years,” Fordeley said.

While the future of how concerts will look is uncertain, Ruggieri said they were happy that the marching band got to perform this year, especially the performance when they were able to dedicate their new uniforms.

“We are all in the process of recording a virtual holiday assembly that we would normally present to the student body, but we’re doing it virtually this year, and that will be available, and hopefully, it won’t be too long before we have all the kids back and we’re able to do our concerts.”

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