SIMS Music gets creative for year-end concert

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Like most of the performing arts community around the world, students in Salt Spring Middle School’s music classes have had to find alternatives to performing to an audience this year.

Michelle Footz, who leads the music programs at both SIMS and at Gulf Islands Secondary School, has been committed from the start of the pandemic to finding comparable learning outcomes as much as possible. For the SIMS Quarter Three final concert last week, that meant bringing every band student outside for one song performed together at last.

“We haven’t played live shows for a year and a half now,” Footz said. “It brings so much experience to play in front of a crowd, and they haven’t experienced that, but this gives them an idea of what it would be like.”

Under the Ministry of Education’s system for allowing in-class learning this school year, every homeroom class at SIMS has been designated a separate cohort. That means only students within the same cohort can study or socialize with each other — and that’s had a huge impact on the band and the choir, which normally draws a few students from each classroom. Music lessons and practice have therefore been taking place in small groups or even sometimes individually. 

Footz said this has posed some challenges to how small ensembles work together, because the students in one cohort may happen to play a strange combination of instruments. Bringing together all the little groups to perform one piece together after practising separately brought additional challenges. The students had just one rehearsal together before filming the song. Their small groups needed to be well spaced from each other even though outside. That made it a little difficult to hear, and the sound quality also changed being outside.

“It’s a way for them all to see what it’s like to play together in a group of 50 students instead of five or 15. We can’t even be in the gym with mixed cohorts, so that’s the solution,” Footz said. “Listening to each other in a different acoustic environment was one challenge, but after running through our piece a couple of times it did start to gel, and I think they had fun doing it.”

Footz noted everyone is starting to get fatigued after more than a year of pandemic restrictions, so keeping kids motivated and excited about music has been her top priority. Something that might be helping with that is the prospect of a marching band being formed sometime down the line. Footz has already purchased some of the instruments and equipment needed with a Salt Spring Foundation grant. The outdoor performance was a good taste of what might be involved.

“It is hard work, standing and playing. It’s a very physical task,” she said, noting marching band is actually a competitive sport in the United States. “This is just a great way to get them started and excited about it.”

The performance event was also a reminder of what to expect after the pandemic, when the music program will be performing live concerts and travelling on field trips once again.

In addition to the big group piece, the online concert includes a selection of recorded pieces from the ensembles and choir groups. Anyone who would like to see the show can email mfootz@sd64.org to get a link to the unlisted playlist. 

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