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Playing During the Pandemic

COVID-19 changes create challenges for high school marching bands

Photo courtesy of Facebook Tygarts Valley High School’s Pride of the Valley marching band has persevered through many challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic this school year.

MILL CREEK — The COVID-19 pandemic has meant changes in almost every walk of life, including education. High school marching bands have faced many challenges this year — especially Tygarts Valley High School’s Pride of the Valley marching band.

“I was hired toward the end of the summer, so we didn’t have a summer band program at all,” new Tygarts Valley Band Director Jeff Caplinger said. “So I really didn’t see the kids until the first day of school. Then once we started school it was only for two days of the week, which is a real problem for the band because you play as a group. It’s been a real challenge.”

Caplinger, who was band director at Elkins High School in 2010 before moving to Charleston, South Carolina, said that all the adjustment has not only been hard on his squad but others as well.

“There are a lot of national standards that have come down for bands about COVID and being safe,” he said. “We now have bell covers on the instruments that prevent aerosols from coming out of the instruments and coming into the air. And we have performance masks that have slits in them where kids can play with a mask on. Things are definitely different for all of us.”

He said having such a great group of kids to work with has made it much easier to deal with the changes. To date, the Tygarts Valley band has performed at just one event this year.

“We played one home game and that was when we played against Elkins,” he said. “Of course we didn’t go on the field but we did play in the stands. So it’s limited in what we can do. All the parades in the area have been canceled, band competitions have been canceled, so it really limits what you can do.”

Another hindrance to playing for spectators now is that there is no practice time when the entire band can get together and prepare.

“The problem is that we really don’t see the kids all together until the time of the event,” he said. “Like at the game we played, we got the whole band together for the first time about an hour and a half before the game started to put it all together. And it’s going to be the same thing for our Christmas concert, we’re going to get together after school the day of the concert and rehearse.”

The Tygarts Valley band, which features 60 participants with high school and middle school students combined, will play its Christmas event on Dec. 21 at the Tygarts Valley Gymnasium. Attendance will be limited to immediate families only.

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