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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

After COVID-19 upended the music, school band is back in Spokane

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 23, 2021

The Mt. Spokane High School color guard member Hope Bloom practices with the marching band behind the school, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2021. After missing last fall, local high school marching bands are back and entertaining crowds at football games.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Mt. Spokane High School color guard member Hope Bloom practices with the marching band behind the school, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2021. After missing last fall, local high school marching bands are back and entertaining crowds at football games. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Mt. Spokane High School marching band is in mid-season form. And what a season it’s been.

Earlier this month, the Wildcats journeyed to Yakima and finished third out of 17 bands. Then they packed their gear back into the bus and didn’t get home until 2 a.m. – an inconvenience they’re happy to endure after what happened last year.

That’s when the music died, or at least went into hibernation, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic – much like the players, who were reduced to recording themselves at home.

“It was a pain in the butt,” said Sy Hovik, director of the marching band.

But band is back.

In schools across Spokane County, musicians in band, orchestra and choir are getting ready to show their stuff with fall concerts on the schedule.

A year after COVID upended their practices, the Wildcat band was practicing on a perfect October afternoon. The football and soccer teams were doing their thing nearby, but the marching band commanded a stage framed by the mountains behind them.

“Our kids are just excited to be on the field,” Hovik said as his 137 players took their places to rehearse a Western-style show for an upcoming football game.

A few miles away, Brandon Campbell and the Mead band were perfecting a Japanese-themed performance entitled “Samurai.”

It was the same show Campbell was ready to roll out last year .

“It’s been a little bit of a challenge because it was written for a different group, so we’ve had to ask some kids to step up,” Campbell said.

And that’s OK, said Mead senior Eli Ordaz.

“I just appreciate it a lot more, because a lot of my friends are in band and there are so many people I’ve gotten to know,” Ordaz said.

“We always tell the kids that it’s not about the trophies, it’s what you get out of the experience,” Hovik said. “It’s also about the friendships you make.”

Most of those friendships endured , but the pandemic didn’t make band easy.

“Last year was interesting,” said Tyler Garrett, a senior brass captain at Mead. Recalling online projects and “standing still and playing random songs,” Garrett said it was difficult to improve.

“That really impacted people,” Garrett said.

Abigail Golan, a senior drum major at Mt. Spokane, said she was “devastated” when the band was sidelined by COVID.

“Honestly, band is so hard, and time-wise, it’s like such a huge commitment, but it’s so rewarding – one of the best experiences you can have in high school.”

Marching bands have the best of all worlds. Performing outside means they can literally breathe free, without a mask.

Few appreciated the moment as much as drum major Kaley Anderson.

A clarinet player since fifth grade, Anderson said joining band was “completely life-changing … I really found my place here.”

It’s a big commitment, but that’s the whole point, Anderson said.

“Everyone has to have their whole self invested in the show, because there aren’t any star players,” Anderson said.

Hovik agreed.

“I tell everyone that they are the starting quarterback,” Hovik said before mounting a scaffold and directing a rehearsal.

As Hovik watched from above, the band performed a show called “Outlaw,” inspired by Aron Copland, “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly” and something modern.

“You can’t do a Western show without Bon Jovi,” he said.

The challenge this year is bringing the newcomers up to speed.

In football terms, this is a young team: Out of 137 marching band members, 89 are freshmen and sophomores who’ve never done this before.

“It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m definitely proud,” Hovik said.

The numbers are down a bit at Mead, but the Panthers finished just behind Mt. Spokane in the competition held in Yakima.

“It was really good,” Campbell said. “We definitely put on our best performance … overall it was a really good experience.”

For both bands, the Yakima competition was important enough that they missed performing at the “Battle of the Bell” football game between the two rivals.

Then again, rivalry only goes so far.

After missing out on a fall season, the Mead and Mt. Spokane bands joined forces last spring in what turned out to be the christening of the district’s new Union Stadium.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, band members were required to stand still.

“But it was so cool, to be able to join with our sister school,” said Jordan Dubinsky, a senior member of the Mt. Spokane color guard. “It was just a great sense of community.”

That sense of community will endure, the players agree.

“As a freshman, I was playing with people who were better than me,” Garrett said. “Now I get to help the underclassmen.”

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