Sibley-Ocheyedan choirs rehearse

Choir rehearsals for at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School continue with masks on, but choir director Kelsey Burns is looking forward to more in-person contests before the end of the year after months of performing virtually.

SIBLEY—This time last year, choir and band season at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School was silenced by the coronavirus.

On April 10, the music students performed in-person for a solo and small ensemble contest hosted by West Lyon School District.

It’s one of the few musical opportunities the students have been able to participate in, with multiple regional and statewide contests and festivals either canceled or moved virtual due to the pandemic.

“A lot of the regularly scheduled ones were canceled, but then some high schools stepped up and hosted some of their own this year,” said band director Peter Carlson.

The band and choir have performed in fewer music contests and festivals this spring than usual, according to Carlson and choir director Kelsey Burns. Those they have entered were largely virtual, with students recording performances and submitted them online.

Usually, Sibley-Ocheyedan participates in the solo and small ensemble contest organized by the Iowa High School Music Association. This year’s contests are being held virtually on April 10, 17 and 24.

However, a handful of N’West Iowa school districts are branching out to hold their own contests in-person.

West Lyon High School near Inwood host the in-person contests, and were joined by high school students from Sibley-Ocheyedan and Sheldon school districts.

Students still wore their masks while singing or before and after performing with an instrument, but they performed live in front of judges and parents and other guests were welcome to attend and watch.

Burns said the setup is the same as in past years when Sibley-Ocheyedan performed in person at statewide contests. Each student is judged and receives a rating and individual feedback.

“There will be judges judging them on the same ballot we would use any other year. It’s essentially the same as it has been in the past,” she said.

Burns and Carlson said they chose the in-person option over continuing to perform virtually alongside other districts because they felt live, in-person performances would be more motivating and satisfying to students.

“It motivates kids more to do their best, they’re in front of people,” Burns said. “They’re thinking ‘I’m in front of my classmates, my parents, I’m in front of a judge,’ versus in front of a camera.”

Burns had just 10 high school students participating in the solo and ensemble contests, about half her usual amount. The numbers are down because Sibley-Ocheyedan’s musical was pushed from fall to spring due to COVID-19 and there were other conflicts with the jazz choir, which kept more students from participating.

Carlson had 31 students performing for judges at West Lyon. He said he’s glad his students have the chance to perform live after seeing multiple festivals canceled on short notice this spring.

“Having students perform live is so important to their experience,” Carlson said. “Your main goal is to work and improve and learn that music and then perform it, usually for an audience or maybe a judge or a competition or festival, or some sort of performance.

“You take that away, it would be just like with all the athletics going on, we’re going to practice but we won’t have a game. How fun is that?” he added. “That’s what’s happening with some of our music groups.”

Preparing for in-person contests has been a welcome change for teachers and students, although rehearsals have yet to return to normal.

Carlson continues to adapt band performances so they stay under 15 minutes or only involve small groups of students to follow public health guidelines. Burns’ students continue to rehearse in masks, although at concerts they are able to take off to perform.

“It’s been a struggle but I think now that things are starting to get back to normal, I’m already looking ahead to next year probably sooner than I would be usually,” Burns said. “I’m ready to start the next year and be hopefully more normal.”