Written by: Izzi Diaz
How can students reconcile with learning that something they once loved, has now turned into a potential risk to their health and safety?
Due to COVID-19 and the unknown of when students may return to a ‘normalized schedule’, many in the surrounding Lynchburg area have assumed and accepted that with the added focus on e-learning, sanitation, and social distancing, that the offering of after-school activity as normal is gone to the wayside. This is especially true for those who participate in the performing arts, where students gather closely and often to create and perform their art as a unit. The questions of doing so safely, while distancing, with space and resources our schools have available to them while also ensuring students are following new protocols, is often questioned while the science behind the spread of COVID-19 through arts activities is lacking.
For groups at Jefferson Forest, EC Glass, and Brookville High School, a growing itch to get back to playing in an ensemble emerged near the end of the summer while students watched sports teams and theatre programs begin to gather again. The idea of wind instrument players uniting with new regulations in place was questionable but for percussionists, who can play their instruments with masks and distance without issue, there were fewer reasons on the table to restrict activity.
As a response to this knowledge and in an effort to grow the areas of the arts we serve through our education department, the Academy Center of the Arts formed the 434 Drumline. Sponsored by BWX Technologies, Inc., this ensemble aimed to gather students from various schools, offer a way to safely educate them in a group settle, and offer small performance opportunities when able.
The planning for the 434 Drumline came about in early August following conversations with high school directors, students, and lovers of the marching percussion activity.
After securing a regular rehearsal space and performance venue, students meet once a week for a total of three hours to practice. From Glass, JF, and Brookville comes a diverse group of 25 excited percussionists ready and excited to read new music and perform as a unit once again. Apart from two or three drummers, the program membership consists of a fairly even split between the three high schools performing on snare, quad, and bass drums as well as the cymbals.
“We as a staff have always appreciated the diverse nature of the marching arts, especially within the marching percussion activity,” said Guy Mavinga, Box Office Manager and instructor of 434 Drumline. “The split of students from area schools is a big representation of the diversity of talent we have in the area.”
With the entirety of the staff, including Mavinga, Josh Detwiler, Brittany Griffith, and Ozzy Wei, having worked together in the past, “being able to teach these students together is a treat,” said Mavinga. Together the staff has a combined 30+ years of instruction experience, with Detwiler, Mavinga, and Griffith sharing three years together on the same staff at Brookville High School.
With the creation of the 434 Drumline, students have the chance to play music and further their education while still being safe in the midst of a global pandemic. Participants are temperature checked immediately upon arrival, and remain at least six-feet-apart all while wearing a mask throughout the entirety of the practice.
“The room may feel a little different as we enter it and add space between players, but the musical quality has not suffered one bit from our added health and safety policies,” said Griffith. “The common feeling among the students is that all of the work that goes into making these rehearsals happen safely is worth it to be able to play in an ensemble and share a similar passion again.”
The effect of COVID-19 on not just music, but art everywhere, has been colossal. From the Broadway shutdown to Theater closings and performance cancellations across the globe, some would think it easy to give up on their passions entirely. Despite this, students and music lovers everywhere have made it a mission to keep the arts alive. We hope to play a small part in that narrative, seeking to allow students the opportunity to have an outlet from the craziness of their day to day lives.
The 434 Drumline will perform in the Live from Lynchburg live-stream fundraiser on November 7, 2020, at 7:30PM. The group will also hold their first showcase on November 15, 2020, at the Historic Academy Theatre where audience members can expect a thrilling and lively show consisting of incredibly talented students with a love for music.