Band students performing in virtual time

Courtesy photo

HARLINGEN — “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”

Henry David Thoreau made that iconic statement almost two centuries ago, but it rings true now more than ever. And no one hears that message — and feels it — more clearly in this Brave New World than the band teachers and students of the Harlingen school district.

“Currently band is being taught remotely,” said Ronnie Rios, director of music for the Harlingen school district.

“There’s no face to face with students until I believe sometime in October,” Rios said.

The tentative date for beginning face to face instruction is Oct. 5, but that date could be pushed back even further depending on the situation with COVID. But there’s nothing tentative about the first four weeks of school beginning Sept. 8; the district will hold all classes remotely during that time period.

Band students are actually Zooming in from their homes for virtual sessions with band directors. It’s a rather awkward and novel system in which directors receive the feeds at a central location. Harlingen High School Band Director Maria Coronado is making it work — with the help of staff and students.

“The band staff is teaching the instrument that they specialize in and so we’ve been doing sectionals,” Coronado said. “We do a sectional once a day four days out of the week and then we give individualized lessons. We’re working on the region jazz and the region band music. They have auditions coming up.”

The auditions are for the Texas Music Educators Association’s all-state music groups.

Even Coronado’s section leaders have shown their innovative skills.

“We have sectionals and yes all the trumpet players sign in and we have our playing sessions,” said Victoria Rivera, 17, section leader for trumpets.

“It’s fine,” Victoria said. “It’s no different from what we used to do before but we’re able to try something different and see everybody be able to do this.”

She pointed out the advantage of tech savvy students able to navigate through a new world in the virtual universe, though with the expected complications.

“It’s harder since they’re home and they want to not log in,” Victoria said. “Then they do it because they get excited because they get to see other people and they get to play their instruments.”

Such an arrangement obviously presents some logistical problems. Students performing through Zoom can’t synchronize their playing with each other like they do when physically in class. But there’s a solution to that problem, too.

“It is very difficult because there’s a delay, depending on the device of the student or their band width or what have you,” Coronado said. “We’re using this app called Flipgrid. You can put different grids for the students to submit videos.”

Flipgrid is a video discussion platform offered by Microsoft.

Coronado said that in her usage, the main grid is marching band. Within that grid are individual folders for school song, fight song, and marching band fundamentals.

“What the kids are doing, they’re turning in their videos of them playing the school song and videos of them playing the fight song,” Coronado said. “I recorded myself conducting, and then they watch me while they record themselves playing the school song or the fight song.”

They send those recordings into individual folders in the marching band grid, and Coronado is now downloading them.

“When I put everybody together we are actually playing in time,” Coronado said. “It’s time consuming but it’s going to be worth it when we get the final results.”

The new system is an ever-evolving process, and no one knows where it will lead in this Brave New World of COVID.