BLS Bands Are Back Together


Masks won’t muffle the music! (Source: Mary Bosch (II))

As the new school year starts, Boston Latin School bands have fully transitioned to in-person music-making. Accompanying these changes, new procedures and routines have been adopted that differ from BLS bands’ previous practices in the earlier stages of the pandemic.

During the lockdown stage of the pandemic, band students and teachers alike faced significant challenges as they adapted to learning virtually for a class that had previously been a remarkably social experience. Classes went ahead on Zoom with a reduced schedule. In order to keep up outside of class, students submitted recordings using the online software, SmartMusic and Soundtrap.

One challenge that students playing instruments faced last year was not being able to receive feedback during online lessons. Aside from “the actual playing,” Lev Sugerman-Brozan (I), a member of Symphonic Band, describes the difficulty of music editing. He explains that,“[It was challenging] organizing the tracks to line up with each other and making sure everyone is playing the correct parts at the correct tempo.” Nevertheless, he says that using SmartMusic and Soundtrap made the experience more accessible because it allowed for music playing  even in restricted circumstances.

Ms. Margaret McKenna, who directs Symphonic Band, Wind Ensemble and Pep Band, also found last year’s virtual music classes difficult due to the lack of in-person interaction. She says, “Music-making is social by nature, and students really feed off of each other in rehearsals. Whether it’s musically driven […] or socially driven, music is about going through the process as a whole. […] Last year, with the majority of the year completely remote, we lost out on that togetherness.”

This year, the situation has improved for band classes as BLS students have returned to in-person learning, albeit with restrictions. One such precaution is the use of fabric bell covers placed on the openings of students’ instruments, which block the flow of aerosols that can spread germs. According to Ms. Cathy Bosch, a BLS parent who runs the Friends of the Arts organization, parent volunteers began creating the bell covers in summer 2020 and are now producing them by request.

Another COVID-19 preventative measure that has affected BLS bands is the social distancing guideline, which requires band students to play three feet apart. Because of this, classes are split across various rooms in the school as opposed to just using the band room at the music wing.

Despite the challenges posed by these precautions, the general consensus among those involved in band is still a positive outlook on being able to play in-person again. “I’m looking forward to the Pep Band at the Thanksgiving Day game. I’m really hoping that will happen,” Ms. Bosch says. Being able to watch the Pep Band always lifts her mood, and before the recurrence of in-person learning and events, moments of joy like this were much harder to come by.

Future concerts are scheduled to take place in person, but Ms. McKenna notes that while she is hopeful that students will be able to perform in person, final decisions will be “based on public health guidance.”

Many find the return to in-person music-making to be not only worthwhile, but also exciting. Ms. McKenna says, “If I’m being honest, I look forward to every time students walk into the band room.” She adds, “I got chills when the Symphonic Band brass and saxophone section played just their tuning note this year — it’s the first time I’ve heard them play anything live as a group since March 2020. It brings hope, camaraderie and, dare I say it — fun — to every day. I can’t wait to hear what they accomplish this year.”