The ELHS Band Keeps Marching On

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

ELHS Senior and drum major Nina Largey with her baton.

The East Lansing High School Marching Band will not perform in person this fall after the ELPS district administration postponed fall athletic and extracurricular activities on August 14, but preparation for the show goes on.

In an email to marching band members and parents on August 15, David Larzelere, director of bands at ELHS, broke the news, discussing the canceled upcoming face-to-face rehearsals and events as well as the possibilities for the marching band during the fall and spring semesters.

“We will get through this eventually and I look forward to the day that we can meet face to face!” Larzelere said, encouraging the marching band members.

The Show Must Go On…Zoom

Larzelere spent several months planning in-person summer band activities before settling on a virtual format ahead of the district’s decision to suspend fall activities.

The ELHS band was initially scheduled to attend sleepaway band camp, a yearly tradition for around 15 to 20 years, according to Larzelere, but near the end of the school year, Larzelere received word from the Mystic Lake YMCA Camp that all stays at the location were canceled.

Larzelere announced on June 12 he was planning to have an in-person band camp at ELHS from July 27 to 31. But as the end of July drew closer, Larzelere made the difficult decision to cancel in-person band camp and move it online.

Larzelere consulted fellow high school band directors, ELHS administration, and the East Lansing Band and Orchestra Parent Association’s Executive Board while making the decision.

“I had a lot of interest from students who wanted to do something,” Larzelere said. “So we maintained that last week of July as our marching band camp.”

A Different Feel

Gary Caldwell for ELi

Kieran Eisenlohr, a senior section leader in the flute section, playing the piccolo.

Virtual camp was different from the usual sleep away camp.

According to Larzelere, the camaraderie the band gets from the camp is irreplaceable.

“When you’re there, it’s hot, and it’s kind of miserable, and you’re tired, and the food is not very good, the water is terrible. And it sounds on paper to be kind of miserable,” Larzelere said. “But kids look forward to it as maybe the most important thing they do all summer.”

Doing everything over Zoom was challenging.

Students received only 2 hours of instruction each day through the online camp. The band learned and reviewed basic marching skills, vocal commands, posture, and playing.

Larzelere played his trumpet while all students muted themselves and played along, creating what Larzelere called a “somewhat synchronous” experience. Drum majors were told to conduct while the band played to keep the everyone in sync.

One of those drum majors is senior Nina Largey. Largey and her fellow drum majors normally play a large part in helping band members connect with each other at Mystic Lake, but Largey found it difficult to build that sense of community in a virtual format.

“Some of my friends who are section leaders didn’t even get to talk to every single person in the section in breakout rooms,” Largey said. “Definitely the bond and the friendship associated through marching band is not there, and I think that’s something [the freshmen] are missing out on.”

Seniors like Largey help plan the camp session and its nightly activities. They also pass along traditions to the new members.

Largey and several of her classmates tried to recreate some of these traditions, such as different themed dress up nights, in a virtual format.

“The fun part of marching band is not in marching band,” Largey said. “The fun part is being able to become friends with your senior and junior section leaders and have these bonds, and then have someone when you go into high school that’s looking out for you.”

The new members agreed that the virtual format made forming connections more difficult.

“I didn’t really bond because there wasn’t a lot of time to talk and get to know [upperclassmen],” Micah O’Neal, a freshman, said. “It would have been different in person because we could have talked more.”

After the virtual camp, students continued to practice individually for in-person sectionals, which were scheduled for the week of August 17. Larzelere planned to distance students 15 feet apart on the football field with only one section of instruments at a time to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

But, the cancelation of all fall activities two days before the planned sectionals made virtual performances the only option.

Springtime Opportunity?

The marching band may get the opportunity to perform this school year. The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) announced on August 14 that football would take place in Spring 2021.

In the meantime, marching band will continue to be the first unit of the band curriculum at ELHS.

Larzelere will still teach the curriculum as if the band was meeting in person, using class time for learning music and the halftime show routine.

“This experience will be very different for all of us but I am determined to provide a music education for all students,” Larzelere said in an email.

Marching band members will miss the rehearsals, games, two tournaments, and one invitational that keeps things busy and provides consistency.

“I think marching band is a big part of everyone in the band, especially in the fall,” Largey said. “I know I schedule my weeks around marching band and I kind of pace myself like Friday game, okay, I gotta get all my homework done before Friday.”

Larzelere and Largey are cautiously hopeful that if football returns in the spring the band will be able to perform and engage in some of its traditions.

“We’re going to hope and do some of the senior traditions in the spring when we’re back in person. I hope there will be some sort of senior things, just not right now,” Largey said.

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