Band Program Plays On

Juniors Tristan Isidro (left) and Mark Fujimoto play percussion in Concert Band 2. There are five percussionists in the band but the two now play separately in the Alpha group while the others are online. Photograph by Noah Hu ('23)
The year 2020 has brought massive changes to all aspects of school life and HBA’s band program is one of those areas that has been dramatically impacted. The program, HBA’s largest performing arts group with around 300 students in five bands last year, faced a variety of challenges, not limited to those brought about by campus restrictions.

Not being on campus at the same time, dealing with constant lag during online meets, wearing masks and other protective gear while playing their instruments, and the loss of many band members are just a few of the challenges that the band has encountered this school year. In addition, with the departure of long-time band director Brad Shimizu at the end of last school year, band members felt uncertain about what their band experience would look like in the new year with the new director, Dwaine Woo.

In the first quarter, when classes were fully online, band classes became theory and musicianship lessons. There was little opportunity for students to play their instruments together as an ensemble. When they did have a chance to play, students still had to practice independently. Sophomore Ryan Fukui said, “It’s been hard to be in band through online school, but it’s been fun and we got through it together.” More recently, the band has tried to play together virtually, but there was a catch: All the students had to mute their mics to avoid an overload of sound while playing in unison by watching Woo conduct. In other words, they were playing together without being able to hear each other. Junior Kisa Tamai noted, “Although Mr. Woo cannot listen to our playing, he gives advice on how he wants certain parts to play a section.”

In the second quarter, when students were able to return to campus part-time, they faced a new set of challenges due to social distancing rules. Band classes had to take place outdoors where air circulation is better. Tents were set up right outside the band room on a lawn. Without the acoustics of an enclosed space, band members found that listening to each other became more challenging. Sophomore Caylie Takahashi said, “Playing outside makes it harder to hear other people’s rhythm and sound, so we really have to focus on our counting or else we’ll be lost for the rest of the piece. It’s also very difficult to hear Mr. Woo talking sometimes.”

Band classes now meet outdoors in order to play safely together. Photograph by Derrek Miyahara/Island Digital Imaging

Sophomore Timothy Shimizu, a brass player, found playing outside difficult for another reason. “The bell covers muffle down my sound and dampen my tone a good amount, and being outside in general definitely affects my intonation because of the heat.” Being outside was not their only challenge, however. The musicians also had to wear special masks with a velcro strap in the middle while playing.

With the concurrent schedule where about half the students attend class online, each band period was split into two separate bands with one group of students attending class online. Woo would direct in-person students for half the class, while online students would practice independently. During the second half of class, Assistant Band Director Maribelle Fernandez would take over the in-person band while Woo focused on helping the online students. With this format, the band became practically two separate bands. Wind Ensemble Alpha students had no percussion and very few brass in their half of the band, making it harder for them to stay together and have a fuller sound. The Omega students were a bit luckier, as they had a bigger set of low brass, but still struggled without the full band being there. However, the separate groups worked with what they had and were able to record video performances (as two separate bands) for the middle and high school’s annual Christmas Chapel, which was held virtually.

Band students and Woo also faced the new experience of never having met each other. The adjustment was significant, as previous director Brad Shimizu had been teaching the band classes since 2009. However, students seemed to have adjusted well, and many have grown fond of Woo. Senior Peter Cheung said, “I think [Woo] is a great teacher, and he’s very friendly.” Woo met the students with equal praise, saying, “The students are awesome. It’s so different telling them to do something then they just do it, and I don’t have to tell them how to.” Woo is especially impressed with the senior class and their commitment to the band. “I think one of the blessings of having [the seniors] is that they said they came back because they wanted to, and they wanted to make sure that the band program stays alive. They’re really giving back this year.”

Looking forward, Woo is optimistic and has some new ideas in mind for the band program. “I just want to create more activities, more ways for students to get involved with music that’s outside the traditional band type thing. I think about growing it to become a total music program, where we can incorporate people who enjoy any music,” he said. Woo has mentioned adding a pep band to play at sports games, a jazz band, and even a rock and roll band. Learning from the experience of his own high school band friends pursuing diverse music majors, Woo feels like expanding student’s musical abilities will allow them to take their talents with them beyond high school. Overall, Woo sees band as an opportunity for students to find out what they really enjoy in life. “I think it’s a way to explore. It’s about discovering how God designed you and what your strengths are. That’s all. And if you’ve never explored all those gifts, or you close the door to one you’ll never know,” he said.

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