Wind instrumentalists, as many musicians, have found rehearsals and concerts upended this year by new coronavirus measures: time-limited and player-distanced rehearsals, fewer indoor concerts, smaller audiences.
Some Waco performing groups have found the space this fall to breathe and blow, returning to a familiar player-audience dynamic, by going outside.
For local bagpipers, last month’s Walking Tales event at Oakwood Cemetery provided the opportunity. Baylor University student wind players found their chance on campus in building porticos or outside doorways.
Walking Tales, the Heart of Texas Storytelling Guild’s annual event where storytellers dress up as figures from Waco’s history and tell their stories, has had a bagpiper in the past, but a full contingent turned out for the most recent one. Piper Carrell Myers, 58, joined fellow pipers Kermit Brock, Greg McEwen and Jason Nering.
Myers was representing Scottish immigrant and Texas settler Neil McLennan, the county’s namesake, not only by music, but kilt as well, wearing the MacLennan clan tartan.
It was the first time the pipers had played together since March, when the first communitywide pandemic control measures went into effect.
“After an hour or two, it got better,” said Myers, who picked up the pipes after her retirement from a nursing career.
She and her fellow pipers had met weekly at the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum, the headquarters for Waco’s Scottish Rite Masons, for rehearsals until the facility restricted its use by outside groups because of COVID-19 considerations.
Though technically a wind instrument, the bagpipes do not require much of it once the bag is inflated, she said.
“I smoked for 35 years and I can play,” Myers said. “It takes five breaths of air to get the bag up and then you just breathe normally. … It’s like patting your head and rubbing your stomach.”
Beginning pipers start on a chanter, the recorder-like pipe with holes to play nine notes. Once players get the rhythm of playing notes and breathing, they progress to adding the drone pipes, then learning to march in a group.
“It’s the best thing you can do in this world with your clothes on,” Myers said with a laugh.
Baylor student musicians definitely had their clothes on this fall when playing outdoor recitals with fellow students walking to and from their classes as a moving audience. The open air performances were part of the music school’s new COVID-19 protocols designed to continue instruction while minimizing the circumstances in which the coronavirus could spread.
Indoor rehearsals were limited to 30 minutes before required breaks for ventilation. Players rehearsed and performed with 6 feet of space between them. Instrumentalists wore masks with slits to accommodate mouthpieces.
Concerts and recitals were livestreamed rather than played before an audience, and many private lessons were done online via Zoom.
To give students the chance to share their music with others while performing live, there were outdoor “art attacks” or pop-up concerts by groups including the Amet Saxophone Quartet, the Baylor Jazz Ensemble, Wind Ensemble and the Graduate Brass Quintet, playing for listeners on their way to classes.
Open-air performances for the fall are over, with Baylor students leaving campus after Wednesday to finish the balance of their classes online. The Baylor Wind Ensemble will have a livestreamed concert at 7:30 p.m. Monday, available at baylor.edu/music, under the Concerts & Programs tab.
The School of Music’s long-running tradition of its “Christmas at Baylor” concerts will not be held this year, though student and faculty ensembles and soloists will perform a “Countdown To Christmas” Dec. 1-24 with short videos of Christmas music posted daily to baylor.edu. Last year’s “Christmas at Baylor” concert will be broadcast as “A Baylor Christmas 2019” Dec. 24 and 25 on KWTX-TV.
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