Honors ensemble, home education: Mundelein band finds new ways of teaching during pandemic


Photo by Andy Sturgeon

While performing the group’s music, Band Director Jerald Shelato plays his trumpet during 5th period on Zoom, unmuted, for the Honors Wind Ensemble musicians to play along with at home. “Students, you may or may not believe this, but to whatever degree you find online band to be cold, lacking, without spark, etc., so do I,” Shelato said. “I want us to get back to regular in-person band as soon as we can safely do it.”

Megan Burns, Staff Reporter

When Honors Wind Ensemble’s concert season was altered from the COVID-19 pandemic, Band Director Jerald Shelato had to adapt his teaching to the situation.

“COVID-19 has eliminated [and/or] severely postponed opportunities for some MHS band ensembles to perform and receive recognition at major state and national festivals,” Shelato said.

Along with not being able to perform at competitions and festivals, Wind Ensemble and other MHS bands haven’t been able to practice together in-person, which is a struggle when it comes to working on group pieces, said junior Ella Kasamis.

COVID-19 has completely changed how concert band rehearsal works,” Kasamis said. “From my past experience, the concert band season spends most of the time working on group pieces and preparing them for concerts and festivals.”

As a result, since many students have been learning from home, working on music definitely looks different to them.

“We haven’t been able to actually have concerts, but instead we are doing Zoom recordings/performances in their place,” Senior Jean Lacroix said. “We aren’t able to sit in a band and play together, but instead practice at home with a recording of an ensemble playing.”

In order to continue to challenge and push students’ musical abilities, band members are expected to submit recordings demonstrating a development of fundamental skills– like playing scales– or a development of their overall musicianship– like performing parts of music.

“Activities planned for all the bands are primarily concerned with maintaining individual performance opportunities and accountability,” Shelato said. “Most Wind Ensemble members are showing themselves to be highly engaged.”

After the mandatory camera policy was introduced at the end of Semester 1, Shelato said he believed the students engaged at an even higher rate from the expectation of being “present and on camera.”

Others, however, think differently.

“Overall, I haven’t noticed a massive change in class dynamics,” Kasamis said. “My classes, such as Wind Ensemble, that [had] active students beforehand still have that level of participation.”

With MHS’s switch to hybrid at the end of January, the band directors acknowledged they’ve had a difficult time adapting to the new schedule. 

Currently, it has disengaged all students while they’re in person, as they can’t play their instruments, said Shelato.

“Only students who continue to learn remotely will be able to play during class,” Shelato said. 

Starting March 1 with the latest MHS hybrid schedule, some in-person band time has become available. 

In an email sent out to band and choir families on Feb. 10, the Fine and Applied Arts Department Chair Larry Calhoun stated in-person students would have an opportunity to play during a 30-minute chunk of the [80-minute] class period class.

“In-person, hybrid students who are not comfortable with in-person singing/playing will report to a designated classroom for accessing the class via Zoom,” Calhoun said in his email. “Students [playing] MUST wear the proper [personal protective equipment] for their instrument or vocal performance at ALL TIMES, and maintain social distancing while in the class.”

Despite all the obstacles and changes Wind Ensemble has faced, students have been able to find silver linings. Even though it’s been tough, many have tried to make the best of it, said Kasamis.

“Personally, I enjoyed taking advantage of my extended lunch to go grab food with a friend,” Kasamis said. “I’ve also made use of other apps to chat with my friends and study together for AP tests. Having that interaction with others while staying safe has really helped me through this eLearning experience.”

Shelato noted Wind Ensemble members, specifically, can be seen sharing stories from their lives during class, having occasional breakout room time to catch up with their classmates, and engaging in daily dismissals– some of which recognize students’ birthdays. 

Shelato said, “I think optimism comes in many forms.”