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Carson High’s Blue Thunder brings boom on Zoom (video)

By Jessica Garcia jgarcia@nevadaappeal.com

Sixty-five marching band students learning four Bruno Mars and CeeLo Green songs in five days just don’t have time to mess around, but their commitment to their music paid off.

Carson High School’s Blue Thunder Marching Band gave a memorable prelude to the new school year Friday night in a virtual concert on Zoom for parents on the school’s football field. With new band director Nicolas Jacques leading the group and two drum majors at the stand, the evening show was the capstone of well-planned, condensed rehearsals and a welcome back celebration for the 2020-21 school year.

CHS is only one of four high schools in the state to offer a fall camp for its marching bands, and the students worked tirelessly in the heat last week while following social distancing guidelines for safety.

What originally was meant to be a full two-week schedule for students to learn a more involved repertoire of music was cut due to the pandemic.

“During July, I made plans for a full marching season,” Jacques said. “After discovering that our competitive field show season was canceled, we reduced the length of band camp.”

CHS Principal Bob Chambers and officials made sure the students would have a COVID-19 screening station to check for symptoms when they arrived for sessions. They rehearsed with double the minimum safe distance as they worked on their drills, wore their masks while playing their instruments and required bell covers on their brass instruments and saxophones, Jacques said.

They spent less time in full-group rehearsals. Water breaks were staggered to ensure there was a reduced amount of student contact.

The band’s two drum majors, Emma Doty, and Jasmine Wong-Fortunado, junior, spoke briefly Friday about their confidence at rehearsal just hours before going live.

Doty, a senior, who began in band in middle school after playing in a Nevada Day parade and discovered how much she enjoyed it, continued with it through her studies in Carson High. For Friday’s performance, she conducted the band, helping to keep time. She was particularly proud of how quickly her peers came together to produce a 20-minute concert their parents, school staff and volunteers would enjoy.

“We usually do (camp in) two weeks,” Doty said Friday. “We just had to work with what we had. This band is awesome. We had to learn four songs in four days. It’s going to be a lot cooler tonight. I can’t speak for them, I feel confident about them. They’ve been working hard.”

Wong-Fortunado said the typical rehearsal is a nine-hour day.

“We’re all energetic, we’re learning, we’re catching up quickly, and considering the circumstances, I think this is a really good group,” she said. “We’re dedicated.”

She added she wanted the chance to make a difference being involved in music.

“I wanted to be a drum major because I like being able to make a bigger impact and everyone can share their ideas,” she said. “I feel like it’s a good thing for me personally.”

The program’s success continues through the transition of directors this summer. Jacques took over from former leader Bill Zabelsky, affectionately known as “Mr. Z,” who retired in June. Jacques transferred from Carson Middle, but it wasn’t a quiet summer.

“I took over during a tumultuous time where nobody was able to get into the school, items were not able to be returned, and this all occurred while closing out my school year with my Carson Middle School students,” Jacques said. “In June, my marching band leadership students submitted applications online, and we had lessons throughout the summer to prepare them to run various portions of camp.”

But he’s also no stranger to the district and welcomed the possibility of moving into Carson High’s role of band director. He’s also a familiar face to the community and local families as well. In October last year, Jacques was named a recipient of one of two Milken Educator Awards in the state and was recognized during an assembly at CMS with school and district staff members, the Milken Family Foundation and Gov. Steve Sisolak for being an outstanding teacher.

However, even if his initial plans for the Blue Thunder this year have changed in less than two months’ time, Jacques said there are still more “fun things” coming up for his students.

“My philosophy is to make better music by making better musicians,” Jacques said. “We focus much of our time building respectful communication, time management, camaraderie, pride and a commitment towards excellence. When students practice those skills, the musical output develops naturally because students strive towards it for the good of the group, and they feel safer when it comes to taking risks when they are among people that they trust.”

The link to the video is available on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1163&v=lIgRDr0YpT8&feature=emb_logo.