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All together now: D-B band releases online 'quarantine' performance

Rick Wagner • May 3, 2020 at 11:15 AM

KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett High School’s band members may not be together physically because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but musically they are on the same page and virtually performing together nonetheless.

On Friday, the band released a roughly two-minute performance of 250 students playing the first movement of “Within the Castle Walls.” It is a mini spring concert of sorts “while under quarantine” and turned out so well that the band director said plans are to release a second virtual performance of another piece of music as an end-of-year celebration.

The students were playing individually to make an overall performance woven together by an assistant band director.

“People who are on social media are seeing all over the place this virtual combination of musicians who are in their homes,” D-B band director Lafe Cook said Thursday, referring to a phenomenon also seen on network television.

Now, he said, folks in the Tri-Cities can see that same kind of performance from high school musicians, whether in small groups in a “Holllywood Squares” or “Brady Bunch” Zoom-type layout to almost 200 at once. A link to the video is to be posted on the Kingsport City Schools website (k12k.com), as well as pushed out on the system’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

WHY AND HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

“We just wanted them to learn the piece,” Cook said. “We just wanted to keep them playing.”

As for the how, Cook said that associate band director Ryan Gilbert deserves a lot of credit for editing the compilation video and audio.

Picture some 250 students in their bedrooms, living rooms, laundry rooms, sun porches or other locations, some with ceiling fans whirling above them. They are playing with earphones or headphones giving them the beat and time so the individual performances can be merged into one video and audio track. One female saxophone player wore a fake mustache.

Cook said the piece of medium difficulty was chosen on purpose so that more accomplished musicians in the group wouldn’t be bored and some of the beginner-level students still could learn to perform their parts. Even with all that done, the next step is probably the hardest, he said.

“The difficulty is the editing,” Cook noted, adding that he’s recently learned all about something called synchronization rights for such performances. He said some bands that do these must hire someone to put the video and audio together, but Gilbert did that for this project. 

In addition, however, Cook said that Brian Balmages of FJH Music Company, Inc. deserves much credit for allowing the band to play his 2012 composition his company published and to put it online. 

Most of all, however, Cook said the students made the all-volunteer performance happen.

“We did not make this mandatory,” Cook said. “Almost every kid in the program (who plays an instrument) participated.”

Students already had been doing online playing tests for him and assistant directors, but keeping all 250 students in time and tune virtually is a new activity. He said a few high schools across the region have been doing similar performances, including schools in Cobb County, Georgia.

“We’ve been doing online playing tests for a couple of years,” Cook said of students performing before a smart phone or other digital video device. “Kids already are adept at uploading test playing.”

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