Attending a rehearsal or attending a performing arts event at a Napa school this fall witnessed the tension between the coronavirus pandemic that continues to disrupt lives almost two years after it began – and young musicians, actors and dancers whose very performances seem to recover some of the normality that the virus has torn from them.
While most of the students reunited with their teachers and each other, and sports teams took to the pitches and courts, groups, theater clubs and dance troupes also returned to action.
Cloth shrouds cover the flared ends of the trumpets, and the masks protect the lips of dancers and even actors. But after months of inactivity, disembodied Zoom video sessions, and socially distant rehearsals with 6-foot spacing, the high school performers once again train with each other and share their talents in front of friends and family, much like they did before March 2020.
The last edition of the High School Football Big Game between Napa and Vintage High Schools on October 29 featured performances by marching bands from both schools, just as the game has done for decades. The following month, residents of American Canyon were treated to a November stage production of “Clue” produced by the American Canyon High theater program, and a Holiday Spectacular on December 3-4 will feature the music programs. , theater and dance from Vintage High.
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“Honestly, I didn’t think we would have a chance to go back to school in person,” said Natalie Rodriguez, senior at Vintage, who, along with her dance program peers, was halfway through rehearsal. ‘a spring production last March when COVID-19 triggered a complete shutdown of NVUSD campuses that would last for seven months. “Everyone was so happy to be back on the dance floor and to be able to work together again.”
The return of live school entertainment in front of an in-person audience has awaited the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and the slow easing of state safety guidelines during the pandemic. Virtual group lessons and Zoom practices gave way to open-air concerts with widely spaced musicians, which in turn were replaced by traditional plays, concerts and performances on the soccer field then. that the Napa Valley Unified School District brought most of the teaching back to campus starting in August.
Napa High’s Marching Band Camp in early August offered musicians more than a chance to catch up after a school year with almost no chance to perform. For the group director, Mike Riendeau, it was also, and it is just as important, a way for his students to simply get used to being in a group again.
“They were quieter than normal, not as social,” he said during a mid-October rehearsal for the group at his training ground on campus. “Fortunately, we had 10 days of group camp to socialize them again, to get them to talk to each other live and in person, not on Zoom.”
“The curve has been exponential; it’s not a straight line, said Riendeau. “It’s like I’ve had two years of ninth grade students. Now they’re learning at a normal pace.”
While the relaxation of safety rules allows party members to play closer to each other and get along with each other better, signs of a persistent safety awareness remain as close as the ends of the game. almost all brass and wind instruments.
Sock-like covers are threaded over the flared pavilions of trumpets and tubas, clarinets and oboes, to prevent the expulsion of germs. At a Vintage orchestra rehearsal last weekend before a holiday concert, some flautists took it a step further and wrapped their instruments in opaque black bags that also hid their hands.
Face masks covered the mouths and noses of the musicians practicing “Sleigh Ride” inside the Vintage Gymnasium, just as they obscured the faces of their classmates who passed by them in the hallways. The slits in these masks left just enough room to admit a mouthpiece – or, for flute players, a loop that protruded from the mask to admit the mouth end of the tubular instrument.
Such personal protective equipment became the norm for NVUSD student musicians this fall, and is a far cry from the quick and dirty backups that a Napa High Marching Band Drum Major remembers when his ensemble returns to spring football games. last. “We used to cut masks and plastic bags and use them until the real PPE arrived,” Jasperina van Stuijvenberg said during group practice before the Big Game.
Face coverings, however, weren’t just reserved for those who play musical instruments – and a member of Vintage’s dance program described her peers’ determination to protect not only their health, but their ability to keep playing.
“There were girls who couldn’t play at all during their last year of school (in 2020-21), and we didn’t want to relive that – but we didn’t want to hurt him either,” Vintage senior Cadence Mendoza said after a masked recital with about 20 fellow dancers. “Other students, you see them going to parties or going out and not wearing masks, and you realize that might affect the dance program, and then we might not have any more performances. “
The masking requirement also extended to student comedians at American Canyon High, who took the stage in the murder mystery play “Clue” earlier this month. In response, the school’s theater director, Summer Heartt, asked her students to focus on the gist of the performance, including projecting their voices with enough force to be heard even through the fabric.
“They had to project their voices with masks, throughout the theater,” she said of the school’s first live theatrical event since the pandemic hit. “… We trained to be bigger and louder; we focus on audibility. These kids are extremely passionate about what we do; they seized the opportunity – in fact, I think they passed it.
According to American Canyon Choir Director Jamie Butler, the morale of student singers has improved since the physically distant outdoor practices earlier this school year gave way to rehearsals on the risers of their halls. normal choir. The program also benefited from air purifiers installed in their rehearsal space, as well as the arrival of “vocal masks” that detach from the lips to sing more easily.
Whatever drawbacks artists and their teachers have endured, and may still endure this school year, are pale in Butler’s mind about making sure his students can develop their talents and share them, like the pre-pandemic classes that came before.
“It’s about making the years as great as they can be for the students that lie ahead,” he said. “We have these students once, and it’s our job to make them the best possible experience. “
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You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or [email protected]