2nd annual marching arts camp sees drastic changes during pandemic

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
Snare drummers prepare for more exercises during the 2020 Texoma Marching Arts and Leadership Academy in Ardmore on Wednesday.

In 2019, area music educators ambitiously launched a summer marching band and leadership academy that brought nearly 150 students to Lake Murray for a five-day camp. The 2020 edition of the Texoma Marching Arts and Leadership Academy has experienced some expected changes due to an ongoing pandemic, but organizers wanted to keep one thing the same.

“We were going to do two totally different things, but it’s like ‘no, this needs to happen at the same time,’” said Chauvin Aaron, co-director of Southern Oklahoma Community Arts. Even though this year’s camp only has about half of last year’s attendance, almost a quarter of them are attending virtually.

This year, students are attending a three-day camp at the Ardmore Convention Center, where everyone remains socially distanced while taking part in seminars for color guard, drum major, drumline and band leadership. Masks are required due to rules from the convention center and the camp, but attendees seem focused on the task at hand.

“I think the main thing is that we just have to keep ourselves occupied,” said Jackson Arthur, an upcoming senior at Ardmore High School. As one of three drum majors for the Tigers’ next marching season, he is learning how to become a leader for his band and how to deal with a pandemic.

Color guard members take part in a seminar at the Ardmore Convention Center Wednesday. Face masks and social distancing are among other measures being taken to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Instead of just sitting there if you’re quarantined, you have to do something. That’s what he’s been telling me this whole time,” Arthur said of his instructor.

Aaron said one major focus of this year’s camp will be to help students and instructors cope with a pandemic that still leaves questions about the upcoming school year. While in-person and virtual students are still getting an education in skills to help with leadership on and off the marching field, participants are using marching arts to get through the pandemic.

“I think the other thing that’s so important, too, is just how do they mentally cope with COVID and deal with this situation,” Aaron said on Tuesday.

Organizers also had to cope with the pandemic while implementing changes learned from last year’s inaugural camp. One major change was the cost for students, which fell from up to $300 last year to as low as $40 for virtual students this year. Another change was simply location since busing students from Lake Murray to Ardmore was out of the question due to social distancing guidelines.

All of the 15 instructors at this year’s camp have returned from last year, and Aaron said experience ranges from college students to teachers with 30 years in the classroom. Southern Oklahoma Community Arts members organized the event by securing sponsors, locations and equipment from nonprofits, business sponsors and organizations within Ardmore.

Texoma Marching Arts and Leadership Academy students work on drill at the Ardmore Convention Center Wednesday. Nearly 80 students are taking part in the second annual event, with many students attending virtually.

For example, Ardmore City Schools provided computers and cameras to allow interaction between instructors at the convention center and students attending from home. Aaron said Staples, Santa Fe Cattle Company, BankFirst and Simmons Bank all provided support to secure things like meals.

Students from across Oklahoma and north Texas are taking part in this year’s camp. Virtual students participate in live activities and seminars in the morning hours, while in-person students continue seminars into the late afternoon. The camp will conclude on Thursday afternoon with a performance that will be livestreamed.

Not only students are learning things during this camp. Southern Oklahoma Community Arts co-director Jack Francis said he is learning just how resilient many of the students are. “They could have folded, they could complain about it or given up, but they didn’t,” he said. “I believe if they can overcome this, they can take this world anywhere.”

The Texoma Marching Arts and Leadership Academy performance will be livestreamed on Thursday beginning at 4:15 p.m. on the camp’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/TexomaMarchingArts.