It wasn’t easy for the All-City Band to postpone its slate of annual Christmas events. Being part of the musical ensemble often brings a sense of community to its students, according to Toby Moisey, Porter Creek Secondary School’s (PCSS) band teacher. While the band was on pause and its future was uncertain, its musicians felt like they had something important taken from them.
“For many people, the band is a big community group and social draw,” says Moisey. “Lots of people were finding that they were missing a part of their lives.”
With guidelines constantly changing and no clear light at the end of the tunnel, the All-City Band Society’s administrative team struggled to come up with a COVID action plan they could follow. Eventually, in the new year, things started to look up, and they started to plan concerts and rehearsals with a new approach.
“To me, it was a complete miracle,” says Marie Gallagher, the All-City Band Society’s administrator.
In February, the All-City Band put on a Valentine’s Day concert. It wasn’t feasible to put on a full live performance, so the group recorded and streamed the show. By presenting it digitally, they were able to have people outside of Whitehorse view it, including some of Gallagher’s family in Scotland. Moisey said the band may continue to stream shows, even when they go back to playing for an audience.
“It was fun putting it together and it was a really good experience,” he says. “We got a high-quality recording of the band as well.”
After a slow start to the year, things have now picked up for the band. First, they played another virtual show for Rendezvous weekend that was streamed on Feb. 26. Coming up at the end of March, the band will be presenting yet another two online events, this time to make up for their lost Christmas concert. The team chose to have the band play pieces that reflect the versatility of its musicians, according to Alex James, an All-City Band director.
One piece the band is excited to showcase is “The Witch and the Saint,” by Steven Reineke. The piece is story-driven, and follows two sisters who were separated at birth, one becoming a witch and one becoming a saint. Another is a piece called “Wayfaring Stranger,” arranged by Christopher Nelson.
“There’s some pretty exciting, fast music,” says Moisey. “But also very slow, reflective music with lots of colours.”
The concerts bring together students from PCSS, F.H. Collins Secondary School, Vanier Catholic Secondary School (VCSS) and Jack Hulland Elementary School. In order to accommodate social distancing, the band’s setup had to be completely changed. In order to ensure that there could be a minimum of two metres of distance between each member at all times, the band had to relocate to a larger room and start having rehearsals in the PCSS cafeteria instead of its music room.
“Now I can’t even think of how we fit 60 people in that band room for rehearsals!” says Moisey.
James says the new setup allows the band to be able to work more on its respective sections and the spacing actually helps the musicians hear each other better. It doesn’t come without its hassles though. The band can only play for a half hour at a time before the members need to put their masks on and leave the room to allow the air to circulate.
The leaders agree that working with these new challenges fostered unexpected growth within the band. James says that in these times, it is easy to feel stuck and discouraged, but music is something that can push people forward and inspire them to get through the tougher days.
“It feels like a triumph to allow this to continue this happen,” he says. “Especially for the kids—it gives them something to be striving towards. It keeps me hopeful about what we’re able to do and what we’ll continue to be able to do.”
It’s a simple love of music that keeps Moisey, Gallagher and James doing everything they can to find ways for the All-City Band to continue through the pandemic. While James and Moisey both came from musical families and started taking piano lessons as children, music came to Gallagher later, when she was a teenager and a schoolteacher discovered her musical intuition.
During a class exercise, students were asked to make a drawing prompted by a piece of music. The piece was “La Cathédrale Engloutie” by Claude Debussy, and Gallagher drew a church.
“We didn’t know what the piece of music was called,” she says. “We knew nothing about it.”
The next thing she knew, she was being told by the music teacher that she needed to play an instrument. She had no idea at the time, but music would become one of the most important parts of her life.
The All-City Band’s March concerts take place the evenings of March 30 and 31. They will be presented through the Yukon Arts Centre. To check out the concerts, head over to yukontickets.com, and to keep up with All-City Band Society, take a look at their website, allcityband.com.