Turn On That Radio!


On a brisk, Friday night, Poway High students in the instrumental music program awaited nervously for their first performance in months.  

The drive-In concert on Oct. 30 was a musical event featuring small ensembles. Attendees parked in the South Parking Lot, and sat safely in their cars, while live music played through the FM radio. 

That day would mark the first Drive-in musical concert and the first time the students have performed in eight months. “Being able to practice with people and play with them in a concert was a great experience,” senior Katelyn Walsh said. 

There was a lot of preparation for the Drive-In, as students had to decide if they wanted to perform solo or in a small group. For small groups, decisions over what instrumentation would work better and who was in the group had to be made. 

One thing students learned was that communication was important; finding the right pieces online, going into break out rooms on Zoom, setting up practice dates, and more. Even with the ample time given to practice in-class in Zoom breakout rooms, there was still more to be done. 

Many groups still had to find time outside of class to practice. “We had to make time after school to meet and rehearse to get the timing correctly,” senior Camden Pomeranz said.

For the instructors, planning the drive-in concert was equally as hectic. The planning for the performance started in August and because of COVID-19 restrictions, the planners had to consider many things. 

First starters, the safety of the event, including how would social distancing happen, the size of the performers and the audience. Instead of large ensembles, the performances were sized down to about 10 or fewer students. The musical program asked a few parents to construct plexiglass to separate the performers. 

The program also worked with the personnel from the Poway Center for the Arts to help with sound and running lights. The event used FM radio to play the performances through an FM transistor. This was used because event planners wanted people to stay in their cars and this was the best possible solution to the plan. 

But these hectic changes were nothing new for the students. As many of us know, having everyone talk on a Zoom is really hard. If singing “Happy Birthday” is hard, imagine a whole full of instruments. 

It is obviously a struggle to have the students play with each other, but teachers have found an innovative way to deal with that. Instead of playing all at once, which would sound interesting, students individually play a given exercise while everyone else “plays” along.

For students, the transition has been interesting. Normally at this time, the band works on-field show music for the marching band to play at football games and tournaments, but due to the pandemic, all of those events have been canceled or postponed. The solo and group pieces for the Drive-In let the students practice and perform their instruments. 

The classes use the website Smart Music to record and turn in homework, which is usually assigned once a week and due on Friday. 

“Being online has allowed me to get to know the people in the program better since we have to communicate more about things,” Walsh said.

   The students have missed being with their friends and doing something they love.  Walsh confessed that she missed, “being able to play as a whole band”. 

 A large ensemble has a way to make the music sound better, or “multi-layered and complex,” Pomeranz said. The Drive-In was a way to bring back fun memories from previous performances. 

Many of the students were nervous before the event. Generally, the students are “very nervous when it comes to performing in front of people, “ senior Brian Enloe said. But because they have not performed together for eight months, anxieties were all high. 

They were not used to performing in small groups, usually, they are in big ensembles, and they were worried about the effectiveness of the plexiglass and how it would inhibit their performance. But after the concert, many were relieved, like student Annika Raymundo who is pleased, “it’s over, yet excited to play again.”

As the night proved, all the scheduling and meet-ups paid off because the Drive-In was a total success. Although it was made extra credit for band and orchestra students, many of the parents were happy to see their kids playing in-person again. Everyone was supportive of the performing students and the event was enjoyed by all who attended.

Drive-In concerts may become more common. “Realistically, with the state of our performing arts centers, we will be forced to continue to use the Drive-In format as a possibility going forward,” band director Mike Cook said. 

The Instrumental Music Program has one more Drive-In planned for Nov. 20. “We hope this will be a celebration of Trimester I being over, marching band, etc…) and the celebration of a safe return to school starting with Trimester II,” Cook said.