Music Department returns to rehearsals

Band, symphony and orchestras proceed with in-person instruction this semester
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Band, symphony and orchestras proceed with in-person instruction this semester

While the world remains in lockdown, music lives on. Students attending Humboldt State University have returned to in-person music classes where they can rehearse without the complications of connecting online.

Professor Dan Aldag teaches two classes face-to-face, jazz orchestra and jazz combo. Although students have returned, he says the jazz orchestra isn’t entirely in-person.

“We’re doing a reduced instrumentation of what we would normally do,” Aldag said.

The transition from 17 people to nine resulted in a significant difference in musical quality. Music depends strongly on how many people and which instruments are present. Changing those factors can change the orchestra’s sound entirely.

With such limited numbers, students and professors alike miss social aspects of classes.

“I miss the folks that aren’t here,” Aldag said. “The nature of the jazz orchestra is that a lot of people play in it multiple semesters and multiple years, and so it feels like we’ve got people missing.”

Like the rest of HSU, in-person orchestra have restrictions and precautions like wearing masks, covering horn instruments and taking breaks outside to let air refresh.

“We’re used to having two straight hours of rehearsal and instead we go for 30 minutes then take a 15 minute break, and then another 30, and another 15 minute break so rehearsals feel a little choppy,” Aldag said.

Less rehearsal time for students can negatively affect their performance. Since student musicians had their time cut short last semester, finding the time and space to practice has been a challenge for students.

Kayla Rodenburg, a senior at HSU, hasn’t had an opportunity to practice and felt out of tune with her instrument.

“We haven’t had the time to practice, so me going back now I’m really rusty,” Rodenburg said.

Rodenburg is in the Humboldt Symphony and practices in person with her string trio. She’s still getting the hang of learning music online, especially with the symphony only meeting once weekly.

“During COVID, it’s pretty different because we have to go online and record quick tracks so we can have everybody playing,” Rodenburg said. “The winds and brass and everyone that plays an instrument that you have to blow through, we can’t practice with them in person.”

Music is strongly dependent on the people surrounding you as you play, and it’s harder to learn music without hearing the other musicians. Those in the Symphony who cannot join in-person join through a Zoom meeting.

“There used to be more from the community, but a lot of them are more elderly and maybe they just don’t want to be in person right now,” Rodenburg said. “It’s a few of us but we make it work.”

Joel Costello, HSU freshman, plays in the HSU Jazz Band twice weekly. Students meet when they’re part of a song that’s being rehearsed, however, with in-person instruction coming to an end in early Nov., that likely won’t last long.

“It’d be cool if the school could find a way for there to still be in-person wind ensembles,” Costello said.

Outside of group rehearsals, Costello currently practices in his dorm room. He said he felt noisy at first, but eventually realized he didn’t have any other choice.

“Practice rooms is just too much of a hassle with pandemic requirements,” Costello said.

The practice rooms are only open in certain buildings a few times a week, and students are struggling to get enough individual rehearsal done.

Musicians are operating in a different reality, practicing music in dorm halls that are silent from a lack of students, little time to play with other students, limited ways to learn new music and a lack of community between musicians.

“All in all, I think everybody is doing the best with the hand that we’ve been dealt,” Aldag said. “Hopefully we’ll be back to normal sooner rather than later.”

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