Student Band Plans Pop-Up Concerts Throughout Henry County

By Amie Knowles

December 11, 2020

“Silver Bells” won’t be the only instruments along city sidewalks this weekend.

BASSETT – How do you teach music during a pandemic? Bassett High School band director Trey Harris thought about that for months. His students hadn’t played together since 2019. They needed the practice and people needed some joy. So why not stage pop-up holiday concerts in Henry County?

The band will do just that this Saturday, performing throughout Henry County. It’ll be good practice for the group. By this time in the semester, most band members at the high school are deep into their competition season. This year, COVID-19 halted all of the annual trips.

“The last time we performed as a group was March 6, 2019. It has really been a struggle to not be together as a group for the students. They love peer interaction and performing for others,” Harris said. “We wanted so bad to get them safely back to performing in public. Currently, the safest thing to do is play outside. It is difficult to do long concerts right now because we don’t have a lot of practices, so having shorter music to learn and shorter ‘pop up’ events has been the way to expose our students back to playing publicly.”

Maddy Ferguson, a junior, looked forward to Saturday’s festivities – especially since the pandemic cancelled one of the band’s main events the previous school year.

“I’m really looking forward to be able to play for people again,” Ferguson said. “Having missed the spring concert and other performances we had planned was really a let down, especially after all the hard work we were putting in, but I’m super excited to play with my friends again for the community.”

Practicing in a Pandemic

Preparing for the concerts didn’t look the same as it would have last year at this time. Typically, students performing together practice together. This year, due to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines, practicing presented challenges.

Harris joked that the band doesn’t practice, but circled around with “it is very tough.”

“It is virtually impossible to practice ‘together’ on Zoom calls,” Harris said. “We have asked the students to work on their own and we can do things with individuals virtually, but not as a group.”

On Zoom, it’s difficult not only to hear others, but internet lags oftentimes prevent groups from performing together in real-time.

The group made the best of their virtual situation, each student focusing on their individuals skills.

Henry County Students Speak

Cannon Sechrist, a senior, said the hardest band-related challenge in the pandemic centered around practicing.

“Group practicing has been difficult, but we have persevered and grown to work harder and harder through these troubling times,” Sechrist said.

Ferguson also expressed difficulty practicing. However, she and her band mates made it work.

“I think because of COVID we’ve all found it difficult to find motivation to practice, mainly because for a while there were no performances to practice for,” Ferguson said. “But with the use of social media, a lot of band members have been able to keep in touch and motivate each other, so we are still able to stay strong as players and friends.”

Sophomore Asjah Taylor also missed the social interaction with her fellow classmates.

“The biggest challenges I have faced due to COVID include being away from basically my second family. When you go from almost seeing the same people everyday to not seeing them at all unless bumping into them at the grocery store for eight months, things change and individuals fall off from things they do whether it’s practicing everyday, keeping in touch or just trying to stay motivated during these difficult times,” Taylor said. “Overcoming these challenges have been very hard but being in this small ensemble has gave me the chance to reconnect and feel more at home while having some great times together.”

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Taking Precautions

Together – individually – the students practiced their parts. On Saturday, they will come together and play as a group once again.

“We have a variety of winter holiday selections that we will play at each of our performances,” Harris said. “We have a brass ensemble and woodwind ensemble that will play six to seven songs each.”

The group will do their part to provide a safe holiday concert experience – not only for members of the band, but also the public. They are taking precautions to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

“The students have specially made masks that allow them to play while wearing the mask as well as bell covers for most of the instruments,” Harris said. “Audience members will only need to keep a distance of 10 feet from the ensemble. All of the national studies have shown that outside playing events are the safest for performers and audience members at this current time. That is why we selected all outdoor venues.”

Holiday Hopes

“We hope to spread some holiday spirit in our community where tough news seems to be prevalent right now,” Harris said. “Just to see a smile and a wave will make our students so happy. They love to be entertainers and this will get them back in the business.”

Sechrist looked forward to several aspects of Saturday’s performances.

“Being able to spread cheer through music, perform for random people and to see the smiles I am able to share,” Sechrist said. “I want this because so many people have suffered; not just in this year, but every year. I’ve wanted to give back to the world and help them to be able to turn the bad into good.”

Taylor also expressed excitement over playing for the public again.

“I’m most looking forward to going out while having fun, being thankful to have the chance to play – most importantly staying safe while playing for others in the holiday spirit,” Taylor said.

Outdoor performance venues

For those interested in catching one of the Henry County pop-up concerts, the ensemble will perform at Chick-fil-a in Martinsville at 12:30 p.m. Then, they will travel to Stanleytown Health and Rehabilitation Center in Bassett at 2 p.m. The concerts continue at Belk in Martinsville at 3 p.m.

“We may also do some caroling with the group next week throughout the county,” Harris said. “If you hear music in your neighborhood, come on out and join us.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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