Earlier this month the Riverside High School Jazz Band took second place in the high school jazz band category at the annual Music in the Parks competition in Coeur d’Alene, an achievement all the more remarkable because the band had only been playing together for a month.
The Riverside band was going up against bands from Idaho high schools that had been playing together all year, said band director Valerie Rux. The Music in the Park competition isn’t one the school normally competes in, she said.
“It’s a festival they’ve been doing for years and years and years, but we’ve only been once before,” Rux said. “Because there’s been so few things available for us to do and we were together, we thought we’d go to this festival in Idaho.”
Everyone was pleased by the result. “They’re a great group of kids,” she said of the 25 students. “They were all so excited. It was so nice just to be able to play.”
The performance marked the first time the jazz band has competed since October 2019. Their spring concerts in 2020 were canceled and when school began last fall, there were a lot of restrictions in place.
“We started out the year once a week,” she said. “They divided the jazz band into four groups.”
Each of those four groups would meet separately once a week, but they couldn’t always play their instruments.
“There were times we weren’t playing at all because of protocols,” she said.
It was up to each band member to practice independently at home. Rux said she would offer one-on-one instruction between classes or after school if someone needed it.
In January the rules were relaxed a bit. Half the band could gather at one time and could play if they wore split masks that allowed the mouthpiece to go into the mouth and used bell covers to cover their instruments, Rux said.
Rux said it worked because none of the band members are novices.
“They are a really talented group,” she said.
Still, it can be problematic to play by yourself for months and then suddenly shift to group performing.
“The kids would be working on something but wouldn’t know how it fits,” she said. “When we got together, it was just a matter of putting the parts together. It wasn’t like starting from scratch.”
The band was able to gather as a whole and begin putting those parts together at the start of the fourth quarter, Rux said. That gave them a month of practice before the Coeur d’Alene competition in early May.
Rux is full of praise for what the band has been able to accomplish this year.
“I am impressed by them,” she said. “I think they’re amazing, wonderful, talented kids.”
With many restrictions still in place, there won’t be any public spring concerts. The jazz band will be participating in two school concerts, where half the student body will gather at a time outside to hear the choir and school bands perform.
“It’ll be nice to get some more performances under their belt,” she said.
Rux said she’s trying to figure out if the concerts can be streamed live on Facebook since the public can’t attend.
“Because of all the rules, we can’t even let the parents come,” she said.
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