John Barsby music teacher Russ Der performs with his drum line members Ovando Bingham, Nico Suitor, James Little, Toban Fortier and Atley Hopps (from left). (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)

John Barsby music teacher Russ Der performs with his drum line members Ovando Bingham, Nico Suitor, James Little, Toban Fortier and Atley Hopps (from left). (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo school band drops wind instruments, goes drums-only due to COVID-19

John Barsby music teacher Russ Der modelled his class on American marching bands and drum lines

A Nanaimo high school music teacher is adapting his class to COVID-19 by going drums only.

John Barsby Secondary School music teacher Russ Der said music teachers have been turning to novel solutions in order to offer COVID-19-safe classes, such as covering up the ends of wind instruments and offering computer programs so students can play along with a piece of music at home. But none of those options appealed to Der.

“I didn’t want to go down that road, and actually, in a way, I’m kind of glad I didn’t,” he said.

Instead, after speaking with drummer Mike Harrison at Long and McQuade, Der decided to solve the issue of students playing wind instruments by retooling his classes to be all percussion, inspired by the American marching band model. He said the music store helped by providing a discount on rentals, as the school did not have enough drums for an entire class. Der said he normally has about four percussionists in a class.

Der said the school also supported the change, with Barsby Bulldogs coach Rob Stevenson passing along the funds normally allotted to football, as that sport isn’t happening this year. Der also received funding from the thrift store across the street, Deni’s Dynamite Deals.

The all-drum classes started in November. Der said due to the cohort system he had some students who didn’t want to take music, but they soon came around. He said drumming is “universal.”

“We started with basic rudiments and fundamentals and as things progressed everybody really started to catch on,” he said.

Grade 10 student Nico Suitor normally plays trombone with the band. He said it was “a bit of a weird adjustment” at first and he was hoping there would be other non-wind instruments available, like piano and guitar. But as someone who used to play drums, he was soon on board.

“As we started doing this I just started getting more used to drumming again, because I took a break for a couple years to just do other instruments,” he said. “But then I started drumming again and it just kind of clicked.”

Suitor said playing in a drum ensemble wasn’t something he thought he would do, but he appreciated that “for once, I’m not the one doing everything.”

“With drumming it requires a lot of independence usually because you’ve got to focus on three things at once: bass drum, snare and a cymbal,” he said. “And doing it with other people has been very interesting.”

Der’s drumming classes led him to start a drum line with some of his students. He said it’s a project he hopes outlives the pandemic and eventually his students can perform at sporting events.

“I can only see it getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

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