WEYBURN – Students and families at the Weyburn Comprehensive School were taken off-guard with a sudden announcement that the school’s band and choir winter concert will now be virtual, and not in person as they had hoped it would be.
Families first received word of the sudden change on Thursday, when a Facebook announcement went out that the school’s choirs and bands will have their performances filmed, and compiled into a concert video that will be posted to the school’s YouTube channel.
The lack of any opportunity for live performances for a second year has led to some students dropping out of band and choir, said parent Connie Barsness, adding there was also no communication with students or families about why this change was made when they were looking forward to finally having an in-person concert.
Parents are also upset at this decision as it’s inconsistent with the fact that sports teams are still allowed to continue to have competitions, she said, noting the school held a senior girls basketball tournament on Friday and Saturday, and the sports department recently finished their football, soccer and volleyball seasons.
In addition, two of the school’s choirs, the RISE choir and senior choir, performed at the Quota Carol Festival on Sunday night, and the drama department just recently staged Matilda Jr. live in the Cugnet Centre.
“I certainly appreciate the perception that there are inconsistent practices and expectations for a variety of events. Some of that is due to the fact that the situation with COVID and responses as well as risk are challenging and changing,” said Lynn Little, director of education for Southeast Cornerstone School Division, going on to explain the rationale for the decision to move the winter concert to an online presentation for a second year.
“The greatest challenge with hosting Christmas concerts or band concerts is the size of the crowds, the fact that we still have many school communities with positive cases and close contacts, the fact that exposure to the virus now just three weeks before Christmas could mean isolation for many at a time when we all want to be with family, and the fact that we do not have a policy or practice in place as of yet for vaccination or proof of negative tests for large audiences in the school settings,” said Little.
“We were hopeful that we would have been in a better place to be able to host such events, but unfortunately we just aren’t there yet,” she added. “Gyms full of students, parents and grandparents is a desire we all have. We continue to remain hopeful that we will soon be able to return to these great traditions.”
“I just feel the school division has been indifferent to our music program. This decision was a broad sweep without any thought to the repercussions on the students,” said parent Leanne VandeWeyer. “From a safety perspective, I don’t think this was warranted. There’s just no need to cancel a live concert at this point.”
She noted her daughter Lindsay, who is in Grade 11, along with her classmates in the music program, are senior students who do not have that many opportunities to have performances left, and they have already gone through a year and a half of cancelled concerts and events. She added that her daughter is “hugely disappointed” to have the live concert cancelled.
“I understand we have to abide by the public COVID guidelines, but we’ve got clear guidelines, we are wearing masks and take the requisite steps. We can have a safe event live like we had at the Carol Festival,” said VandeWeyer. “A virtual recording is a very poor substitute. … It just seems that the music program is singled out. It’s an arbitrary decision.”
Barsness pointed out that WCS has built up its music program over the past number of years, but the program has suffered greatly since COVID shut everything down last year. There are students who have lost interest and dropped out of the program because there are no opportunities for any live performances, and this is continuing that situation.
“Everyone thought this would be a live performance, and one parent thought it would be a combination of live and virtual,” she said. “Nobody really understands why when it’s not a restriction by the government. It’s not a provincial restriction, it’s coming from the board, so it’s mixed messaging and it’s confusing.”
Barsness noted her son Evan was one of those who had been in band but dropped out of it last year. There is also a fear among some parents that if they speak out about this inconsistency, the school board might move to cancel sports or other programs as well.
She is a member of the WCS school-community council, which has also had problems getting enough interest when parents are currently not able to go into the schools.
“Because of COVID, trying to have parents come into the school has been tough,” she said, noting the hopes were high to have an in-person concert to help try to raise the interest of parents once again in school events.
“It’s a school community, and having a band and choir program always has been good for that,” she said, noting many people who used to attend concerts didn’t even have students at the school.