OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee High School Brahman Band Director Clint LaFlam is about the enter his 14th year of teaching music, and he has no idea what it’s going to be like. COVID-19 has turned the normal routine of every teacher on its head this year. Teachers have to figure out a way to instruct classes safely in the midst of a pandemic, with some students in class while others follow along live online. That’s a difficult task for any teacher, but especially so if your class involves performing and playing music.
“We’re basically starting from scratch,” said LaFlam. “I feel like this is year one again. The kids will be back on the 17th. I think we’ll do a lot of music theory at first because it’s something I can do live and the kids at home can follow along as well. It should be interesting because as teachers we are always taught not to lecture, but to let the kids be engaged. Well, now, it is the opposite because the kids at home aren’t in the classroom. It’s going to different for everybody, but especially for us because we’re a performing art and we can’t perform.”
LaFlam already had to make the call to cancel the annual band camp, citing the logistical hurdles that stood in the way of making it happen. And it wasn’t the first band-related activity that has been canceled.
The Florida Bandmaster Association (FBA) canceled their Marching Band MPA’s for the fall semester of 2020.
“The health and well-being of our directors and students are absolutely paramount at this time,” read a statement from FBA, “While FBA recognizes that marching band is an integral and fundamental component of the many high school band curriculums, we do feel that at this time we must suspend the event.”
The Florida Marching Band State Championship has also been changed into four regional end-of-season events to be in November.
The loss of concerts and chances to perform is particularly crushing for 2021 seniors.
“My seniors this year would probably be the strongest performing group that I’ve ever had,” explained LaFlam, “the absolute best that I’ve had in my time teaching. But they’re not going to have much going on in fall with things being shut down. And I don’t know what the spring will look like. I feel bad for these kids because they’ve really worked their butts off to get to this point.”
The OHS Band raises money from the concession stand during football games, but like everything, football is also under a cloud of uncertainty this year. Even if football is allowed to move forward, there’s no guarantee that spectators would be permitted. The silver lining is that with concerts and other events being canceled this fall, the program will have less costs associated with travel.
Still, even with the lost experiences for his kids, LaFlam says he understands that at the end of the day it’s all about being safe.
“There are more things important in this world than going out on a football field and performing,” LaFlam observed. “I’ve had numerous kids email asking what school option they should choose. I told them to do whatever their family needed them to do. I didn’t want them to feel like they had to choose face-to-face because of band while they have an elderly grandparent living with them. I don’t want band to be responsible for an outbreak. We’re being very proactive instead of waiting and being reactive.”