New Program Keeping Bands Together

By: Dave Margoshes November, 2020

Like many other cultural organizations with members and activities around the province, the Saskatchewan Band Association (SBA) had already begun experimenting with delivering programs online. So when the COVID­19 pandemic threw a monkey­wrench into its normal operations in March, it already had a blueprint for adapting. The result was a slew of online programming, instructional ideas and webinars.

“We are doing tons of online programming and lots of that has been quickly planned in response to the impact COVID­19 has had on the band community,” explains Suzanne Gorman, executive director, SBA.

The focus of this activity through the summer was an online band program providing individual rather than group instruction. The SBA, established in 1983, has been offering “wildly popular” in­person band camps for youth every summer for over 25 years, four of them have been week­long, day camps and one, at Kenosee Lake, a traditional week­long “sleep­away”. After the pandemic arrived, “we held on as long as possible before making the sad call to cancel all of the in­person camps,” Gorman says with a sigh.

That left “both youth and adult band musicians” clamoring for “something to do over the summer.” The answer was three distinct online programs open to anyone. “They were a huge hit,” Gorman says.

For adults, the Prairie Music Residency, normally held in Saskatoon in August, was transformed from an in­person program into an “online extravaganza.” Planned and delivered by the Saskatoon Brass Band with SBA as partners, the program offered participants who “Zoomed” in for the four days of sessions with over 20 presenters and a roster of engaging topics.  

Gorman says increasing support for rural and remote band development had been a priority for the organization but with the cost of providing that support in­person, "we began looking into other options."

By last November, the SBA “already had a number of online systems, including a then relatively unknown thing called Zoom in place and tested,” Gorman says. “The fact that we were already on the path to using online delivery in some manner was the reason we were able to adjust and react so quickly.”

One result was the production of “an incredible series of instrument­specific educational videos for band musicians of all ages and levels.  We focused first on providing resources that band directors could use to keep students engaged…and it grew from there.

“There is no way we could have done that – certainly not in such an incredibly short time – if we had not already been working on our online education plan, had a team and technology platforms in place.  COVID­19 was not the reason we made the transition to online programming… it just sped it up…a lot! ” 

Gorman says her staff and volunteers “loved the creativity and ‘can­do’ approach we took to manage these new demands.”

The SBA, with over 700 members – bands and individuals – is heavily dependent on lottery­generated funding from Sask Lotteries. 

For most bands, COVID­19 hit “at a particularly bad time,” Gorman says, “right when they were in final preparations for participation in band festivals, about to head on school band trips and about to deliver spring concerts in their communities.”

Online is not for everyone, she admits, but students and adults who participated in the summer online programming have been appreciative and enthusiastic. The programs “allowed me to continue working on music to play with others,” said one student. “It took some of the pain away from not being able to play in a community band.”

Another said, "please keep this program running as we deal with COVID­19, so musicians can retain the feeling that weare still playing in a band, albeit virtually."