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At East Lyme, the band plays on ... despite our new abnormal

Angelica Fadrowski had two options: respond or react. The latter would have been understandable, given our new abnormal and how it's tethered to the very practical question, "how does one wear a mask and blow into a tuba at the same time?"

Instead, Fadrowski responded. Calmly and with the resolve that, yes, there would be marching band this fall at East Lyme High. Indeed, music hath charms that soothe. And so, despite COVID-19, distance learning, social distancing and the other thousand details of a pandemic, she's made it work. And on the band plays. The leader of the band would have it no other way.

"March is usually about when we start planning for the fall and marching band," Fadrowski was saying earlier this week. "March is when the pandemic hit. So we started thinking about doing things differently. Everyone is dealing with a different life right now. The biggest motivator for me is to have the kids still play together."

Yes, they've made music, all the way to participating in virtual competitions. Easy? Hardly. But years from now, when current band members are on their porches contemplating sunsets and talking about the good ol' days, they'll recall the history they've made.

"Beginning in July we got the ideas about safety protocols and schools," Fadrowski said. "We met with (superintendent of schools) Jeff Newton who was very supportive. That's been such a big factor. Eventually, we learned that the U.S. bands circuit we compete with was going all virtual. It meant kids could still compete. We may not have 10 other schools right there we can compete against, but it's still something to work for."

Still, the aforementioned question: masks and certain musical instruments weren't made to walk down the aisle together. So how would this work?

"If they are playing brass, for instance, there are safety protocols of 12 feet apart — and we actually go 14 feet just to be safer," Fadrowski said. "Percussion stands six feet. That's what we call our 'opening Viking set.' If we're outside we aren't wearing masks. But indoor, we are.

"A few band parents have helped us with these amazing masks. For brass players, there's a flap in the front so they can play with a mask on. There also bell covers for the instruments that look like diapers. They go over the bell of a brass instrument to make sure air isn't completely exposing."

Fadrowski is in her fourth year among Viking Valley after five years directing the band at Putnam High. Suddenly, a successful season doesn't necessarily translate into a good show at the football game or a high score at a competition. Now it's about never, ever forsaking the opportunity to be together.

"In the competitions we've had, we record our performances and a panel of judges that give us a score. We've done well," she said. "But the biggest thing for the kids is to be together and to make music together. The main motto of this school year is for everyone is be passionate with each other as far as what they do in their crafts."

The Vikings, who hope as a school to return to in-person learning soon, have virtual state championships Oct. 24 and a national competition Oct. 31. Fadrowski said she and her students are looking for new ways to raise funds to keep the band going. If interested, here is the website:

Fadrowski has even encouraged parents to join in through the concept of "air grams," or short, personal, positive messages from parent to child (or the whole band) to be read over the public address system before performances. As Fadrowski said, "Friendly, encouraging messages to your child are always a plus."

Meanwhile, the kids at East Lyme learn a little better every day what ingenuity looks like. And the difference between responding and reacting.

"We really established a band family," Fadrowski said. "Music now more than ever is a something students need to combat the stress of everyday life. Seeing their in just being together means the world to me.

"If a curveball gets thrown, we'll find another way to make it happen. It's not just me. The students have done a phenomenal job of brainstorming ideas on their own. Kudos to them."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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