Almost Normal: Summer band camps return at BISD

A measure of normalcy returned this week to high school campuses across the Brownsville Independent School District in the form of summer band camp.

Practicing social distancing and taking care to not actually play their instruments, band members returned to their schools for summer orientation camps even though they still aren’t allowed to go inside school buildings because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

At Rivera Early College High School, summer camp for the Raider Marching Band was taking place Thursday, just as it would in any other summer. That was about the only thing that was anywhere near exactly the same.

“The last time we were in school was March 13, so this is the first time we’ve seen the kids since then,” head band director Alex Torres said. “The kids are really excited to be back. … Because of the pandemic we’re having to wear masks to stay safe, but we can still do the physical conditioning part of it. The kids are taking it in stride. They understand that it’s for their safety. The percussionists are the only ones that can play their instruments, and they are social distancing even though they don’t have to use their breath to produce a sound.”

Early June is normally the first meeting for next year’s band as primarily freshmen and sophomores turn out for the drills, plus the percussion section and the flag corps. The full band is scheduled to report July 13.

“Between each kid there has to be a minimum of six feet of space, but we went with 7 1/2,” Torres said. “The flag corps is 10 feet apart but they need the space anyway.” Another difference is that band members are bringing their instruments from home, rather than storing them at school. Horn and woodwinds players brought instruments with them on Thursday.

As in other years, the band is practicing towards Rivera’s first football game of the season in late August at Sams Memorial Stadium and its halftime performance. After that, the goal is putting on a good performance at Pigskin Jubilee in mid-October.

This year’s band will have about 125-130 members. Torres is in his 20th year as a band director. He became the head director at Rivera four years ago after working as an assistant at Veterans Memorial Early College High School from the time it opened in 2010.

Diego Arias, an incoming junior, will be the band’s field coordinator this year. He said it’s a big relief to get out of the house after weeks of being cooped up because of the virus.

“It feels very rewarding,” he said of actually starting practice. “A lot of kids have been really frustrated and are breathing a big sigh of relief to finally be out here doing something rewarding. We’re fortunate to be out here doing what we love to do.”

Torres and three assistants direct the band. He said the band has a history of doing well at Pigskin Jubilee and the state competitions beyond. “This will be going on our 15th consecutive year winning a sweepstakes first division trophy,” at Pigskin, he said.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com