Ardmore High School band practice, competitions, Disney trip on hiatus due to coronavirus response

Michael Smith
The smartmusic website on Tuesday with a notice to schools impacted by COVID-19. Ardmore High School band director Chauvin Aaron said his staff will trying online learning until school resumes.

Jennifer Johnson had been looking forward to spring break for weeks. She and her husband have two children in the Ardmore High School band and volunteered to chaperone a week-long trip to Orlando, Florida. They were also going to include their 8 year old to make the trip a vacation for the entire family.

Band members were scheduled to take part in a workshop with Disney musicians and learn how music ties into the larger film industry. Fundraisers earlier this month raised money to make sure all students had extra pocket money for snacks and souvenirs.

But more than a week before band members and chaperones would be bound for Florida, plans looked like they might fall apart.

“We found out for sure last week, on Thursday evening, when Disney World announced they were closing,” Johnson said. “But last week, as every day progressed and more and more stuff closed, I’m not surprised. I felt it coming.”

As aspects of daily life grind to a halt in a public effort to slow the spread of a coronavirus outbreak, even the Johnson family of five is feeling the effects. Both the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association and State Department of Education have announced a cessation of classes and events until at least April 6 that include school-related travel like this year’s Orlando trip.

Not only are band members unable to take their expected trip due to the closure, they will also miss days of important practice for at least two more weeks. Ardmore City Schools Associate Director of Fine Arts Chauvin Aaron on Tuesday said he had already started delivering instruments to students’ homes so they can keep up their chops.

He said Ardmore Taxi Service owner Clifford Hayes has even provided a vehicle to allow for the deliveries. “I’ve been able to take a taxi, go pick up their instruments from the school and then deliver it to their houses so they’re able to practice during their elongated break,” Aaron said.

Continued practice will be important for many reasons. Aaron said “muscle memory” that musicians rely on can deteriorate if not maintained with regular practice. A concert scheduled for next week is being rescheduled for the end of the school year. Students must also continue to prepare for competitions that are still scheduled to be held at the end of April.

Jackson Authur is a junior and one of the students who had his horn and sheet music delivered to prepare for upcoming performances. He is disappointed to not be in Florida right now but understands the concerns around the virus. He said he’s avoiding unnecessary contact and keeping things sanitized.

During his extended break and now with his clarinet, Arthur said he will practice by visualizing himself in a competition setting to prepare for solo and ensemble on April 22. He is also practicing his part for a wind ensemble contest on April 15 and hopes bandmates are doing the same.

“We need as many reps on our songs as we can get, but if everyone practices their part on the piece I’m sure we’ll be fine,” he said.

Aaron said he is also suggesting students utilize online resources now available for free due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Even though some band events have already been canceled, Aaron has been looking for any silver lining. He hopes to use the extended break and new online tools to stress the importance of parental involvement and challenge his own staff.

“I know that practice techniques are an area that me and my staff need to develop and work on,” Aaron said. Using an app called smartmusic, he will give students a recommended list of musical exercises to improve students’ technique and, in turn, learn how to better teach those techniques. He hopes the impromptu home lessons also improve parental involvement.

Johnson said her oldest, sophomore Jessica Johnson, regularly practices saxophone on her own accord. Freshman Jacob Johnson, however, may need more encouragement. Jennifer Johnson said she picked up her son’s trumpet from the school once she found out spring break had been extended.

“I am going to make them practice, if not every single day, at least every other day,” she said. “I’m going to make them keep it up.”

Their trip to Orlando, including the workshop with Disney musicians, has been tentatively rescheduled for the end of May. Ruth Young Travel Service co-owner Belinda Morris said work to reschedule the trip began on Thursday with calls to Disney. She said five hours Friday were spent on hold with Southwest Airlines to get group tickets canceled and new tickets held.

Jennifer Johnson said her family made a big investment to join the band trip and would rather see it pushed back to safely travel rather than worry about getting a refund from any cancellation. She wants her older children to experience the workshop and her whole family to enjoy a Disney theme park.

She has also never been to Disney World.

“Whenever I heard the news that Disney World is closed, I literally felt my heart and just about heard it hit the floor,” she said.