By Brady Aubin – Special to SUNonline/Orillia
On Monday, November 1, the Orillia Concert Band held its first live rehearsal with 31 members, all socially distanced and spaced out across St. Paul’s Centre’s magnificent stage. It was a magical moment as we played for the first time together.
We are returning to the stage, with passion and energy. A year and a half after the first shutdown, we are all poking our heads out of our foxholes and resuming somewhat normal lives. The Orillia Concert Band had been planning for this day for six months.
The band is currently rehearsing for its big comeback debut on December 4th when they will play not one, but two special Christmas concerts at St. Paul’s Centre, conducted by interim music director Randy Hoover.
The first concert, a one hour family friendly Afternoon Christmas Concert is designed for kids, young and old. In the evening, the Orillia Concert Band presents an Orillia tradition, the Christmas Prelude concert at 7:30, with guest artists singer Christina Bosco and organist Blair Bailey.
Tickets can be purchased from the Orillia Opera House Box Office in advance or at the door of St. Paul’s Centre on concert day (cash only).
The Orillia Concert Band was the last big band in Orillia to put on a concert pre-pandemic! On March 7th, 2020 the band performed its Winter Concert with guest star Cassie Dasilva to a packed house. The following week, the seriousness of the pandemic finally sunk home everywhere and everything was cancelled, literally overnight. We naively thought the shutdown would be for only a few months. A year and a half later we are all finally awakening from our pandemic hibernation.
So how does a large band start up again in a pandemic? Carefully and deliberately, with a lot of research and planning. It was a lot of work but the reward of finally rehearsing together and soon, playing for you, is worth all the effort! These are the major areas the band had to deal with.
First priority: How do you get sheet music to members while minimizing contact? It turns out, like many bands pre-pandemic, the band was well into the process of digitizing its vast music library of sheet music, many of which are out of print and priceless. This process was completed during the initial months of the pandemic, and the library was uploaded into the cloud. Band members were given access to the cloud and now all the music director has to do is let members know what the band is rehearsing and members can download their parts and print them.. In some cases, members use iPads to display their music on their music stands, eliminating paper all together.
The next challenge: Keeping band members practicing when they can’t gather as a group. The weekly rehearsal is a great motivator for members to practice their parts. A year ago, when it finally became apparent the band was not going to meet any time soon in person to rehearse, the music director provided music for band members to rehearse on their own. But without the motivation of a rehearsal many members found reasons to procrastinate. The solution – Zoom rehearsals. The problem with Zoom however is the sound is not synced between computers, so it is impossible for the conductor or others to hear each other playing in sync together. This was solved by accessing Youtube videos of the pieces we were practicing and broadcasting the audio along with the video feed of our music director conducting the band in time with the music playing. All the band members muted their mics and played along at home, followed the conductor while listening to the audio as if the rest of the band was playing with them. It worked excellently and for the months of September and October, every Monday night the band gathered around their computers and tablets for rehearsal.
Return to live rehearsals: Zoom rehearsals were not enough to prepare the band for a concert. The band needed to rehearse in person again. Safely organizing live rehearsals took a lot of preparation and research. Ultimately the OCB contracted their concert venue, St. Paul’s Centre, for rehearsals because the stage allowed for members to spread out. The band has followed all provincial requirements for organizational gatherings including publishing a Covid Safety Plan, screening all members for vaccinations, collecting contract tracing information and having everyone complete a COVID self assessment before every rehearsal. Additionally, the band had to purchase sanitizer and disinfectants. Mask wearing is mandatory until band members are seated in their socially distanced chair where they can take their masks off to play their instruments. As soon as they stand up, just like at a restaurant, they put their masks on again. Our first live rehearsal on Monday 1 November was magical. The virtual Zoom rehearsals had paid off and the band sounded great together again.
The final piece of the puzzle was how do you hold a public concert event? Fortunately, the province and St. Paul’s Centre have published detailed guidelines for public events which the band is following. Attendees must show proof of vaccination and always remain masked. Just like when you enter a store, every audience member is asked to self assess if you are a risk to others (questions are listed on all entrances). While the band is allowed to fill the hall to full capacity per current guidelines, the band has chosen to only fill the hall to 50% capacity as many members of our audience are elderly and will feel more comfortable and safer with the extra space. No food or drink is allowed other than personal water bottles. To avoid mingling there will only be a stretch break at the halfway point and no intermission.
All these extra preparations and new rehearsal have been expensive, but the Orillia Concert Band is incredibly lucky to have some very community minded sponsors: Steve Orr of Dapper Depot, Len Skok of Forest Hill Real Estate, Marites Mendoza of RBC Wealth Management, Richard Fallows of Richard’s Goldsmithing, and John Mayo of BMO Wealth Management. And a shout out to the Community Foundation of Orillia and Area, and the City of Orillia for operational grants that help offset concert costs which help keep ticket prices affordable.
The Orillia Band is always looking for new players, so if you would like to explore joining, please email the band at info@OrilliaConcertBand.com with your experience and instrument type. Many current members joined after years of not playing while bringing up the kids, etc., and as empty nesters wanted to get back into playing again. Currently the band has openings for trombone and bassoon players in particular, but anyone is encouraged to enquire about an opening.
Returning to the stage has been a constant desire of the Orillia Concert Band from the moment the band had to cancel rehearsals and concerts a year and a half ago. The band is so excited that everything has come together to allow the band to present a pair of Christmas Concerts on December 4. The Orillia Concert Band hopes you can all join us to celebrate the return of live big band music to Orillia and area.
(Photos Submitted) Main: The Orillia Concert Band rehearsing at St. Paul’s Centre.
Brady Aubin is the president of the Orillia Concert Band