Butler County's high school bands will be marching to a different tune this year.
Just as everything else, the coronavirus pandemic has forced changes in the late-summer tradition of band camps, and distance today means more than proper spacing between band members.
Chaz Shipman, the band director for Freeport Area High School, said in the interests of safety, Freeport's marching band members will begin in-person instruction Aug. 4.
Rehearsals will be phased, starting with smaller groups and gradually incorporating the full group by the end of August.
The Seneca Valley School District is waiting on the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association's Wednesday meeting, said Katie Huttinger, the district's media support specialist. The PIAA guidelines from that meeting will determine how Seneca Valley will run its in-school sports and activities, including its band camp.
Heather Lewis, Seneca Valley's athletic director, will present any updates to the district's sport/activity plan to the school board Aug. 3.
Scott DiTullio, band director at Allegheny-Clarion Valley High School, said, “We are not going to do a band camp. We are going to wait for school to start and go from there.”
DiTullio said he didn't want to put his 30-member band through days of practice only “to have the rug pulled out from us” by pandemic restrictions.
Presently, he said PIAA rules exclude extra people from attending football games.
Knoch High School is delaying its band camp until Aug. 24 to 28. The band plans to start organizational rehearsals Aug. 12, following the South Butler County School District's Return to Extracurricular Activities Plan, which is posted on the district Web page, according to Jenny Webb, the district's communications manager.
Karns City Area High School's band camp will be in two parts, according to band director Amanda Walters.
She said band camp will run from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and again from Aug. 3 to 7.
“It will be held at the high school. We will remain outside as much as possible,” Walters said.
“Students will wear masks when not drilling; staff will at all times. Everyone will be asked screening questions at the start of practice. Those who are not feeling well are to stay home,” she said.
Walters has 55 members to teach, including 12 new band members. The flag team and dancer will be part of practices but they often work on their own away from the full group, she said.
Walters plans on band practices after camp, but days and times haven't been picked yet. It's part of the uncertainty that clouds much of the start of the school year.
“School begins on Aug. 26. As of right now, all sports are taking place. At this time, we do not know if the band will travel, but we are hopeful,” Walters said. “Karns City has not made decisions about this at this time.”
The Golden Tornado Marching Band is planning to practice.
“We do plan to have band camp this summer. Since our band is large they work primarily outside,” said Brian White, the Butler Area School District superintendent.
“If the governor's current orders stay in place, our band would not be able to travel to away games. Hopefully, the situation improves and they can go,” White added.
Things are just as uncertain at Slippery Rock Area High School, according to Les Fine, the band director.
“School start is advertised as Aug. 26. We are expecting a football season. As of today, we expect to travel to away games, but it could be affected by the policies of the home school,” Fine said.
A normal band camp is planned with adjustments for cleanliness and social distancing from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 3 through 13.
Fine expects to put the 83-member band through its paces. It's a small drop in band size since Slippery Rock graduated its largest senior class last year.
“We have developed a pregame and halftime performance with the understanding that adjustments may be needed each week according to the phase that we are in,” Fine said.
According to school district protocols, teachers must wear face coverings during practices when social distancing isn't possible.
Students and staff will not congregate during down time during practices and rehearsals, and will avoid shaking hands, fist bumps and high fives.
Band members will take all instruments and equipment to and from practices or performances with them each day rather than leaving them in the band area to avoid congregating when setting up instruments for rehearsal. The exception to this will be large instruments such as percussion and sousaphones.
“We are trying to keep things as close to normal as possible for the students, while maintaining safety protocols,” Fine said.
A-C Valley's DiTullio said people who are used to seeing a lot of movement in band routines might be disappointed.
Lack of practice, he said, “might mean some old- school performances.”
“There will be little movement, a lot of 'parking and barking,'” he said. “That's little movement and a lot of music being played.”