Every high school band member — not to mention their parents — remembers the annual Christmas Concert. That end-of-first-semester showcase of your school’s musical talent playing familiar holiday favorites while dressed in brightly-colored sweaters and dad-assisted neckties.
But in 2020, everything is a little (or a lot) different — even so basic a tradition as this one.
Southwestern High School’s band is adapting with a “Virtual Christmas Concert,” which will be streamed live online this Friday, December 11, at 1 p.m.
“We had originally hoped for a live audience, as every musician does, but with the (COVID-19 related) restrictions, that was not going to happen,” said Southwestern’s band director Austin Gilliatt.
Instead, the high school concert band decided to go ahead and play their concert as they normally would — but without an audience of their families around to applaud and cheer. Instead, they’d film it. Oh, and do it outside.
“We (performed) out on the (marching band’s) practice field,” said Gilliatt.
He noted that they’d also planned to participate in the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade and include that in the virtual concert, but the parade, scheduled for this past weekend, was canceled this year.
Recording the concert and going outside weren’t the only protective measures the band took against coronavirus spread. The band had specially-made PPE (personal protective equipment) made with which to play their instruments. That includes a mask that’s layered with a hole in the center so the player can put their mouth to the mouthpiece, Also, stretchy coverings were made for the bells of the instruments, to help reduce coming into contact with another’s particles.
And yes, these changes — including partially covering their instrument and moving outside — impacted the way the musicians had to play.
“Inside, you could tell, but outside, you get the full group together, and at first it was like, ‘Are you guys playing? Are you putting enough air into the horn?’” said Gilliatt. “There was a lot that was different.”
However, Gilliatt is proud of the way his band students adjusted to the challenges.
“They have done a phenomenal job,” he said. “I don’t think I had to remind one student about wearing their mask or following the guidelines. We’ve done everything they can possibly do to continue playing and making sure everyone is safe.”
The concert includes two symphonic band pieces — the beloved “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch” and also a medley, “The Angels Mix.” There are also a couple of percussion ensembles pieces, “Toboggan” and “Trinidad Tidings.”
The menu of music is a bit shorter than what it might have been under normal circumstances, but there was a quick turnaround in getting the concert recorded. The original plan was to record it on December 11, but after Gov. Andy Beshear ordered schools into virtual learning in November, the band had only a couple of days to pull everything together to be put on video on November 20, courtesy of videographer and ex-SWHS band member Noah Allen — “He did a phenomenal job,” said Gilliatt.
The video of the concert will debut YouTube this Friday, December 11, under “Southwestern Warrior Band,” and it can be accessed via the “Southwestern Band Boosters and Supporters” Facebook page.
Finding a way to perform the annual rite of high school band passage was important, a bit of normalcy in a crazy year. The Christmas Concert is one of the favorite events on any band’s calendar, particularly because of its appeal for the audience.
“It’s a great way to just get into the season and to share music,” said Gilliatt. “For the audience, when you play a typical (concert) band piece, the audience maybe can’t relate, but with Christmas, that’s a totally different story. The audience recognizes the tunes and are able to get into the season a bit more when they hear the Christmas music — especially coming from their kid.”