Kenwood football played a total of five games last March and April, and the band didn't play them on at any of them. This fall, however, with the full return to in-person learning, the band has returned in full force and sound, albeit with protective films covering their instrument bells.
"It's just good to be back out," said Music Department Chair and Director of Bands Gerald Powell at this past Saturday's Kenwood-Simeon football championship.
He leads a large department, with orchestra, piano lab, jazz, choirs and guitar classes in addition to the band, which plays year-round concerts as well as performing for the Broncos.
It has been tough coming back this fall to play after the long pandemic disruption, Powell said, but he praised his students, remarking that they are doing a wonderful job considering many of them had not played in a year and a half.
"This year was pretty different, because I had a huge disparity. I had some really strong players, and I had some players who really needed to develop some things first. And they're still developing," he said.
The ongoing quarantines have been an issue at Kenwood, but on the whole, Powell said his students are staying healthy. And he himself is very happy to be back. The jazz band and concert choir's annual Thanksgiving food drive and concert happened on Nov. 19 after last year's cancellation.
"As I expressed to the audience, it was just extremely heartwarming to actually do a live performance in the present, having a crowd, having fans," said Powell. "Although it's a chilly day, we're warm from the inside out, just being back."
In the stands, as the drum line played intermittently throughout the game, several students shared his sentiments.
"I'm just happy to be back with my peers and playing music, because that's my passion," said eight-year trumpeter Miles Macklin at the Saturday Kenwood-Simeon championship game. "And watching football. I enjoy watching sports, so doing two things that I like is a win-win."
Another trumpeter, Miriam Niestat, said playing in a marching band is a nice community experience.
"I think COVID made me realize how much I miss being with the band. It's been really nice to get ready together and take the bus together, and now we're all sitting here playing together. It's just very reminiscent, but it's also very exciting to be back," she said.
Flautist and piccolo player Chioma Akwarandu seconded this. She is a senior now and grateful that, at the end of her high school career, she gets to resume playing with her classmates.
"We missed each other a lot, and I feel like we didn't realize that until we actually got back together," she said.
One great thing about being back at school is that they have a location to practice outside of their homes again. Trumpets are, of course, loud, and piccolos are high-pitched. And the pandemic had much of society living at very close quarters; Niestat said her family was entreating her not to practice at times when they had work to do.
"I definitely had a hard time figuring out what to practice. It was just a lot of trying to figure out on my own how I can better play," she said.
His players, for their part, couldn't choose a favorite between marching and concert bands. Macklin noted that they play more contemporary music at football games while they play a wider span of music at concert band; Niestat pointed out that they already know the pop music they play in marching band, "whereas concert band, it's a challenge of trying to sound beautiful."
"Rather than punching notes, you're trying to make them sound really nice," she said. "I love both of those things, and I think it's very fun to try both sides of it."