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Tights and garbage bags: how music programs survive the pandemic

The Northern Virginia Community College campus in Annandale, Virginia is home to a thriving symphony orchestra, open to students and members of the community. Despite fewer resources and a smaller music department than most universities, it enjoys the support of the Reunion Music Society, a local non-profit group that has helped it achieve a record number of registrations this year.

“This orchestra would not exist without the participation of the community,” said Ralph Brooker, president of the Reunion Music Society and principal cellist of the orchestra.

This fall, conductor Christopher Johnston organized about 50 active orchestra members, including older musicians, into small groups. Some rehearse six feet apart in carports and church parking lots, but most use JamKazam, a video chat platform that allows musicians to see and hear each other. in real time.

The technology is imperfect. At a jazz band reunion, JamKazam continued to put Mr. Johnston off the call. The musicians turned to Zoom, where the audio lag tripped the different parts of “My Funny Valentine” on top of each other. The song was barely recognizable, but the musicians were smiling in their little on-screen boxes – the excitement of playing together hadn’t been dampened.

“There is therapy for getting together with other musicians.” Mr. Johnston said. “It helps us deal with all the negative byproducts of this era, one of which is loneliness.”

Security measures have gone far to reassure students and teachers. The results of a survey released this fall show that participation in school and community groups has remained stable since last year, according to James Weaver, director of performing arts at the National Federation of State High School Associations. Although about 200 of the more than 2,000 band programs studied are currently “frozen”, only four education-based bands have been canceled altogether.

Musicians at all levels say those who were passionate about a music career before the pandemic are only more motivated now. Ms. Alvarez plans to earn a master’s degree in musical performance after graduating. Mr. Vigil, who aspires to teach music at the college level, reflected on his role as a leader in the marching band.

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