On a blustery Thursday afternoon, 13 students are spread out across the practice marching band field and parking lot at New Bedford High School.
The color guard is off in one corner, practicing some figure eights with bright orange and black flags, while the brass players and drum majors are running through a series of marching drills and rehearsing a new song.
This is only the fourth time this group of students has played together since March, when school buildings closed state-wide due to the coronavirus pandemic. In-person rehearsals are smaller now. This is only about 1/7 of the full Whaler marching band. But most of the kids don't seem to mind.
"The rehearsals were optional but we came here because we all want to do what we love," said trombone player Danny Lopez.
"Having these practices just makes me really happy because we haven’t been able to practice with each other for so long," added Makenna Calvao. "When we got to play our first notes, it just felt really great."
All of the students said they really missed playing with their fellow bandmates.
"Most of my friends are in band," explained Laura Conde. "We’re all a family now. Even if it does look a little bit different than it used to. It’s definitely nice to have a little consistency back."
But just because some of the band is back together, the threat of COVID-19 is still very real, particularly in New Bedford. The state has labeled the Gateway City "high risk" since Sept. 9. So students are screened before practice and are supposed to stay 10 to 15 feet apart when they’re playing and six feet apart when they’re marching. Something that's required a few corrections during the drills.
"Can we all just learn telekinesis during COVID-19?" joked band director Matt Pacheco. "Then we will all just know how to be 6 feet apart at all times and so on."
Pacheco and his staff spent a lot of time planning over the summer to coordinate everything. And so far, the students seem to be on board with the new protocols.
Rather than taking their masks on and off in between songs, they open a velcro flap on a special “musician mask” so they can play. They also put covers over the horns of their instruments to reduce the spit.
"It’s definitely thrown me for a little bit of a loop," said flute player Laura Conde. "It’s definitely an adjustment."
Conde's mask has a loop of fabric that she has to string her flute through, which makes taking a break between sets a little awkward. She usually keeps her instrument attached while she rests her arm to the side.
"It looks really funny, " said Makenna Calvao. "We like to laugh a lot about it."
But everyone seems to agree that the inconvenience is more than worth the opportunity to play together again.
"Not being able to see the whole band and not being able to hear and see everything that’s going on has been challenging," Pacheco said. "Any band is better than no band, in my view."
While there are a lot of new routines in this season’s band practice, some things will never change: like ending practice with the school fight song — sung at a social distance, of course.
This segment aired on October 8, 2020.