Blue Thunder clarinet and flute players demonstrate their skills during Wednesday’s parent preview in Carson High School’s Senator Square. (Photo: Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal)
Carson High School’s Blue Thunder is ready to roar again this season, and not even the recent smoky conditions caused by California’s wildfires could dull the marching band’s joyful sound.
The group kicked off its new season with its parent preview Wednesday night. The concert had been delayed and moved from the school’s front lawn indoors to the school’s Senator Square area due to the poor air quality, but band director Nick Jacques and students were eager to perform live again after weeks of practice.
The Carson High School Blue Thunder marching band performs at its parent preview night Wednesday in the school’s Senator Square. (Photo: Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal)
Jasmine Wong-Fortunado, senior and returning as a drum major, said she was glad to return and work with fewer restrictions in the band. She also looked ahead to attending competitions.
“We get to be more involved and be able to do more leadership-wise and band-wise and (see) what real band is like,” she said. “Outdoors, we’re allowed to not wear masks anymore … so now we can sound like a real group.”
Emma Thomsen, senior and the other drum major, said earlier this month her fellow students were anxious to pick up their instruments and march again in person.
“Last year, with kids being split in half into cohorts and bands being really tiny, I genuinely saw kids, like, their mental state, it dropped big time, but now seeing the band kind of reunited and school reunited, I’m looking forward to see them become happier and just enjoying being kids again instead of having to be adults in this big, scary world,” Thomsen, said during a session of band camp earlier this month.
The students have grown more flexible out of constant constraints keeping them from rehearsing under typical circumstances as a cohesive unit, moving indoors on days with poor air quality, confined to the school’s indoor spaces and unusual schedules. But performing Wednesday and being able to attend competitions this season now are giving the students something more to look forward to on a daily basis again.
Jacques shared that COVID-19’s impact on enrollment overall is far-reaching for Northern Nevada’s music programs. Carson High has a solid 45 students this year, thanks to his middle school work and his former students’ commitment to staying with music as they progressed into high school, many of whom still must develop or rekindle daily routines now that school has resumed, he added.
“We’re all going through the same transition this year where a lot of our students have gotten into new habits of working a lot, and they’re reconnecting this month with school,” Jacques said.
Last year, the Blue Thunder played for smaller Zoom audiences watching over computer or cell screens. Approximately 20 to 30 parents, family members or school district members watched online at any given time.
“We’re small overall now, but we have not taken as a significant a dip as other schools in the area,” Jacques said. “Part of it, I’m hoping, is because a lot of the students were my students in middle school, which is the case for about 80 percent this year. They were ones I taught directly and that helps with the retention. But between several new teachers in the district and COVID and our inability to recruit, we did drop.”
Lesli Spears, mother of freshman Emma Spears, a trumpet player who began in Carson Middle School’s music program, said the students are especially excited coming back this season considering the difficulties they’re overcoming.
“I think they’re coping pretty well,” Spears said. “It’s been a challenge to practice inside with the air quality this week, trying to get a setup inside to try to showcase what they’ve done these last few weeks at band camp. The biggest thing: The music’s fabulous, but also the dynamics of how the group moves and flows because competition’s coming up. The girls and guys are excited for competition.”
Spears said for her own daughter, the discipline and practicing keep her on track, which is helpful since she hopes to become a theater major.
“It gets her mind out of the external pressures,” she said. “Music is her passion; it gets her into her Zen movement.”
Parent Michele Toral said she was glad to see the music students this year be more active this year and less restricted than they were under the hybrid model. She said her son Jonah, who plays percussion in Jacques’ marching band, jazz band and wind ensemble, has missed the camaraderie among his classmates.
“They get to be out there and be active, they’re not just limited to class, they’re not just limited to twice a week,” Toral said. “There’s this whole symphonic thing that happens that’s so beautiful. … They’re tight, they’re like a little family. Nick has brought these kids together. He’s a magician to get these kids to work together and come together into harmony.”
The choice also made an impact visually for parents like Anastasia Garcia, originally from Siberia and who came to the United States on a work and travel visa in 2005. Her daughter, Milana, plays the flute and piccolo and played in Eagle Valley Middle School.
“(Band) is where she belongs,” Garcia said. “She was meant to do this. … (The concert was amazing. I’m so happy, I’m very proud.”
Jacques announced this year’s field show is entitled “Colors,” which incorporates three different styles of music portrayed in a visual spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Students chose the theme in May, having listened to six options. They were also still trying out for solos as of band camp earlier in August, and Jacques said all the players were very strong, making the selection for staff difficult.
And even as circumstances continue to change – as of Friday morning, the Carson Senators’ first home game of the season, where the Blue Thunder were expected to perform, had been moved to Sparks High School due to smoky skies in the evening – anticipation for the music program remained high for 2021-22.
“The community can expect the Blue Thunder to return in full force along with the award-winning aspect during the field show season and high-energy music all year long,” Jacques said, adding his thanks to local supporters.
“I’d like to say thank you to the community and the parents, as well as our administration for supporting music and allowing us to do what we’re doing again,” he said.