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Michigan high school students adapt to virtual band class

Four times a week, Jackson High School band students log on to a Zoom call to meet with their director, Joel Shaner, and get their assignment for the day. Shaner outlines what he wants to hear from them, whether it’s a short melody or a rhythm exercise. If there are no questions, the students log off of the Zoom call and get to work recording their assignment and sending it back to him. 

When they aren’t working with an instrument, students get worksheets and music theory activities to strengthen their skills. 

“We almost never play as a group, we get individual assignments and rhythm building worksheets to keep our skills fresh,” said Mary Jo Robles, a junior at Jackson High School. “We also have playing assignments where we have to play certain little songs.”

For many students, being a member of Jackson High School’s band program means getting to take part in special moments like being recognized during senior night at a football game and singing the alma mater at the spring concert. 

Taylor Cline, a senior at Jackson High School, has not been able to enjoy her senior moments due to classes being conducted virtually. 

“It’s just weird, especially with me being a senior and having to miss out on all the things that make senior year special in band,” Cline said. “Music is still a passion of mine and I adore band, but it’s just not the same.” 

Seniors aren’t the only students longing for an in-person band experience. Grace Teachout, a sophomore at Jackson High School, feels as though something is missing. 

“You never truly realize how much something impacts your life until it’s basically taken away and you don’t know when or if you’ll get it back,” Teachout said. 

The one thing that is not missing from the band program is the beloved director, Joel Shaner. Cline said Shaner is the one who makes a class feel like a family. 

“Band is one of my favorite classes because of Mr. Shaner and how he makes it into a family,” said Cline. “Don’t get me wrong, I adore the class itself, but I wouldn’t like it nearly as much if I didn’t have such an amazing teacher.” 

Shaner, nicknamed “Papa Shay” by students, has never stopped working to make the best possible virtual band experience he can for his students. 

Even with all of his hard work, there is no virtual substitute for getting together and making music as a group. 

“Band is a together activity, students signed up to play music with others,” Shaner said. “Virtual is not good for our subject.” 

John Benedetto and Natalee Sabo are senior band students who are also missing out on their senior moments. For them, the most important part of band was the whole group coming together to make music. 

“I always think about how crazy it is that 50 individual high school students, who may or may not hate each other, can come together to create such beautiful music,” Benedetto said. “The world could honestly learn a thing or two from a high school band class.” 

Sabo said the worst part of virtual band class is not being able to play together and learn as a group.

“The collaborating as a band was far more satisfactory than playing the parts solo,” Sabo said. 

Sabo added that not being able to make music with her classmates has taken a lot of joy out of band. 

“The lack of being able to march on the field or play on the stage for a concert has made it not enjoyable for me,” Sabo said. “Mr. Shaner has done his very best to try and keep us engaged as best as possible, but even he would admit that the lack of togetherness has strongly affected all band members.” 

Due to the pandemic, band students are missing out this year during virtual learning and even their director is missing interaction and live music. However, Shaner is hopeful for the future of band at Jackson High School. 

“We are doing everything we can to be ready when we return,” Shaner said.

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