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RHS choir, band students end ‘complicated’ year with concert

By Sue Sitter - | May 29, 2021

Rugby High School’s student musicians marked the end of a year described as “complicated” with a band and choir concert May 20 in the high school gym.

The seventh through twelfth graders presented several vocal and instrumental pieces before an audience of family and friends for the first time in more than a year. They had competed last month against other high schools in the region after sitting out 2020 due to a global pandemic.

In a message to the Tribune, vocal instructor Abby Landsteiner wrote, “This year has been complicated, difficult, and very fluid for music ensembles. Choral students across the country faced a number of COVID-related challenges that greatly affected music programs, and Rugby was no different. Our first priority as educators is keeping students safe.”

“Therefore, until recent changes in the past month and a half, choir students were both masked and distanced 6 feet apart, which made hearing each other more difficult,” Landsteiner added. “When everyone is masked and so far from others that they can only hear themselves and their own mistakes, these necessary precautions also have the effect of making each singer feel more self-conscious and exposed than normal.”

Landsteiner said students had “less certainty in, if or how we could perform our music – our fall concert was recorded and had no audience, but this spring, we thankfully were able to perform live for an audience.”

Landsteiner said the challenges actually helped students build confidence. “These changes have made us stronger musicians,” she added.

“The hardest part about this past year has been how we have had to change the way we rehearse and perform,” Landsteiner added. “Quarantining, mask use, and social distancing make it more difficult to experience what choir is all about. The beauty and magic of choir is that it starts with a room full of individual people and ends with one choir that has the same goal: to shape that vowel the same way, hold that note out just a little longer, or really communicate the emotion behind the piece.”

“The connection you feel to people you sing with and the sound you hear all around you is inexplicably visceral,” Landsteiner added. “It’s powerful. And it’s personal. There’s nothing quite like it. At our Spring Choir Concert on May 20th, I think we got a taste of that again. I hope that next year the choir is able to continue to experience this.”

Band Director Kari Hill said instrumentalists faced unique challenges, too.

“The instrumental department was very different this year,” Hill said via email. “The band was broken down into groups of around 20-23 students at a time and rehearsal was held in the auditorium. We used masks and bell covers and were distanced six feet apart.”

“Normally band students would have rehearsal five times a week for 45 minutes,” Hill added. “This year, most of the time they had it once a week. for ninety minutes with a 20-minute break halfway through. If you compare minutes, students had about 280 minutes/month of rehearsal time instead of 900 minutes like a normal year (because we had to break down into small groups). We would try to play together in the gym as much as possible when it was close to a concert so we could actually play together as one group.”

Despite the challenges, Hill said band students gained confidence as well. “We are very thankful that we were still able to make music, but are looking forward to being able to play together more often!” Hill said.

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