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COAHOMA — New guidelines for the Texas public school marching season meant to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus have presented some unique challenges to the Coahoma High School band program. 


“In the past, we’ve always been able to learn the music and some of the auxiliary parts at any time, but we couldn’t put the show drill to music,” explains CHS Band Director Michael Cason. “UIL pushed back that date which was Aug. 1. Now we have to wait until Sept. 7.”


In July, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) — the governing body for extracurricular activities for public primary and secondary schools in Texas — announced guidelines that delayed the start date of competitive practices and contests for marching bands across the state. The delay is a way of leveling the competitive playing field for the metroplex-area schools hit hardest from the Covid-19 pandemic. Large schools such as Dallas and Houston ISDs will not begin classes until September. 


What the new guidelines mean for the 61-member CHS band is an extra month to work on the marching fundamentals and time to refine the show music, Cason said.


“We are really focusing on the music and trying to get that as clean and memorized as possible before the Sept. 7 start date comes up,” he said.


CHS students began getting used to the new normal the last week of July with the start of summer band. Individual areas are sanitized at the end of every practice which means wiping off individual chairs, stands, and equipment. Shared equipment such as percussion are also sanitized after use. 


“We’ve had pretty good responses,” Cason said. “The kids have been pretty good about doing that so far.”


To stay within the state guidelines, students spend more time rehearsing in smaller groups than pouring over the music as a full band. Cason and his assistant Kira Landin are also making use of the school’s auditorium which provides ample space to spread out for full band rehearsal. The same strategy applies for practice time on the marching field. Students are also asked to keep their face mask on when not marching or playing. 


“It’s not an ideal situation, but it works,” Cason added. 


One noticeable change for football fans this season will be the absence of the band at  out-of-town football games. It was one of the harder choices Cason has had to make.


“It has to do with Covid-19 guidelines for busing,” Cason said. “It’s hard enough to move everybody on a Friday night as is. Can things change, can things be revisited as the year goes on? Absolutely. Based on the information we know, we felt like that was the best decision we can make.”


With many stadiums enforcing a 50 percent capacity rule, it was also a practical decision to sacrifice out-of-town games. 


“Anytime the band travels, it takes away tickets from parents who want to go watch the football game,” he said. “While the band provides a very big part of the football game as far as the atmosphere goes, in the end, I know the parents want to go and watch their kid play.” 

However, this decision can be revisited as the pandemic situation changes, Cason added.


“It’s a very fluid situation,” he said. “To say I have everything set or I know what is going to happen would be a lie. We are trying to make it as normal as possible.”


Once the Big Red Band can officially present their 2020 UIL marching routine, the hometown crowd will be treated to the patriotic theme “Blessed is the Nation” show.


The music for the program includes a melody of “Yankee Doodle,” “American the Beautiful,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Mixed into the musical number are the spiritual hymn “Amazing Grace” and “Simple Gifts,” a Shaker song composed in the 1800s and made famous by composer Aaron Copland, who included it in his work “Appalachian Spring.”


The 2020 Big Red Band is led by Drum Majors Ashley Mull and Cailey Glover.


(Photo courtesy of Coahoma Media.)

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