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Empty Stages Replenished Today

From 413 to 486 students: How Tuscarora’s fine arts is taking change to fill the stage since COVID-19.
Top left square: Michael Mcollum, Sarah Bensel Bottom left square:  Left line to the back: Cat Shivik, Easton Snow, Liam Guymond, Right line to the back: Eric Lim, Dexter Wilkinson. Choral pic: Sophie Briggs, Alexis Adams, Alara Celebi, Carolyn Snead, Sammie Phillips, Bri Santander Arteaga Guitar pic: Spencer Gold, Anthony Ardon Rivas, Nicolas Eisenhower

An ensemble of fifteen takes the title of state champion, while a production of thirteen people wins seven Cappies, and a department as a whole receiving groundbreaking reviews and Superior ratings. These miniscule programs depleted from the COVID-19 pandemic, pushed through and revived fine arts within Tuscarora. In these chaotic post-pandemic years, the fine arts program within Tuscarora has experienced unimaginable scenarios. Although, director changes and growth within music and art, brought these small ensembles Superior ratings and fought against the belief of failing programs. They achieved this with new artists joining the stage, bring a revival of fine arts throughout Tuscarora. The fine arts department continues to fill the stage and ascend through the days. 

Since the year of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, putting on ensemble concerts and theatrical performances has never been harder. Restricting mask mandates and social distance policies, putting on a real good show was more of a fever dream rather than a reality. Many people felt unmotivated to continue, thus dropping out of music and art classes. 

The huge toll on these ensemble based classes resulted in small numbers and lack of motivation. One of the most infamous and noticeable effects of the COVID pandemic affected the Tuscarora 2022-2023 marching band, leaving only fifteen performers on the field. The marching band was the smallest it had ever been and was even regarded as one of the smallest within the state. The miniscule but powerful band soared through competitions and represented the 1A division as state champions. “That was a pretty surreal moment for me, I reflect on that a lot.”  Ms. Durgin, Tuscarora’s band director,  expressed. Alongside the Tuscarora Marching Huskies was a groundbreaking production of Lord of the Flies with thirteen people in the show, occurring during the fall performance season. Mr. Daniel, the theater director of Tuscarora and fine arts department chair,  stated, “It has been hard developing ensembles when for nearly two years students were isolated from one another.” Lord of the Flies was a huge moment for the theater department and was recognized throughout the school with their twelve Cappies nominations and seven wins: Best Play, Best Lead Actor in a Male Role, Best Featured Actor in a Male Role, Best Ensemble in a Play, Best Set, Best Costumes, and Best Hair & Make-up. The achievements of theater and band with small ensembles began to inspire and motivate other fine arts students to once again attempt their passion, and prepared students for the upcoming season.   

Vivian Bougusz, a sophomore in her second year of art shared her beliefs on why art is important to her, ”Cause it’s a fun way to express yourself, and it’s challenging, and everyone has like, a different result.” Tuscarora’s fine arts programs strive for all students to find a personal connection to music and art. This year, Tuscarora welcomed the new choir director, Mr. Belzer, who hopes for students to keep music and singing within their life. 

Mr. Belzer shared, “I think the problem with COVID was not necessarily that it made us, you know, withdraw into ourselves, but it, I think it actually caused a lot of students to become more introverted and then fearful of being on stage or being in front of an audience, right?” Mr. Belzer is also pushing for growth within all ages: elementary, middle, and high school to guarantee musicians don’t lose their passion, and pursue whatever they want in the fine arts community. COVID took tolls and turned ensembles into individuals, disrupting the beauty of working and growing as a group. One of the most positive effects of this revolutionary revival, is the communal relationships rebuilt throughout the fine arts department and the Tuscarora community as a whole. All fine arts teachers are currently reconstructing the artistic family slowly and surely, regardless of the unexpected circumstances. 

Even though COVID withdrew several classes and opportunities within the fine arts community, through some exciting changes enforced over the past two years, there’s a class for everyone and every level within music and art. This year, Mrs. Toler and Mrs. Hancher have brought back ceramics as a class, along with the revival of Musical theater ensemble taught by Mr. Daniel. Another exciting opportunity this year is the guitar club. The club embarks on its second year with sponsor, Dr. Palmer, and club president, Noelle Pamboukian. The club welcomes anyone and everyone for a stress-free environment to learn guitar or further your skills. COVID might’ve depleted the numbers, but the pandemic couldn’t end the ever changing artistic community within Tuscarora. 

Inside this stalwart community, the fine arts department may be seen as large now, but even as recent as last year; there have been roles and gaps left empty on the stage. The band, art, guitar, and orchestra program had a drop in students that brought uncertainty throughout the department. An ensemble of forty-two people within the band and fifty musicians within guitar. Thirty-four people within the orchestra and 287 within art.The stage seemed to produce a quieter sound than usual. The COVID pandemic resulted in unmotivated students and isolation that separated these ensembles, leaving only the optimists left, long enough to experience normality within fine arts in the future once again. These hopeful students and fierce programs made claims that COVID was a little battle within the world of music and art. Ms. Marian, the orchestra director of Tuscarora, voiced, “Music in schools has always experienced a degree of vulnerability. Budget cuts, economic downturns, and most recently the COVID pandemic are some examples. Yet, in my experience, and that of those before me, music is incredibly resilient. It is like a Phoenix bird that does not cease its fire.” COVID’s biggest impact on fine arts is stealing the possibilities of music and art. Opportunities were swept away over the years along with limited access to mentors and educators, swaying these young artists from continuing forward. Why should they practice when there’s no result such as a concert or competition. Why should they get better if their teacher can’t even see their work live? That was the breaking point for many students. The ability to not share the work, the practice, the effort, the change. Live in a classroom, a concert hall, or a studio with their ensemble. The digitized form of education may have worked for core classes such as math or science, but could never find any successful results or long-term improvement within art and music. Isolation, depletion, lack of motivation, and disassociation between ensembles and their directors weakened all of the programs. Although, the artists continued to persevere.
Amidst the chaos and hardships brought by  the COVID-19 pandemic, a remarkable artistic rebellion emerged. Singers, actors, musicians, and artists united, dedicating hours to perfect their craft. With sweat, tears, and endless practice, these small ensembles consistently dazzled in competitions and assessments, earning high scores and superior accolades.

In the realm of visual arts within Tuscarora, students proudly displayed their portfolios in the Scholastic Art and Writing competition, claiming gold and silver keys. Theater, with resounding bravos, carrying home statues and glowing reviews. The concert band and orchestra’s musicians’ talent blossom with individual improvement and transformation throughout the ensemble that graced music throughout Tuscarora. Guitar and choir classes inaugurated tight-knit communities, fostering role models and a shared passion for music. Chris Claudio, a senior and the Tuscarora Marching Band drum major, proclaimed, “You could be here in America and go to Asia and both of you guys could read that one page of music. Anyone can appreciate art, can learn art, can experience art in the same way or different ways. Anyone can connect with it.” The use of music and art to pass the days during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in a thrilling revival, fueled by passionate geniuses ready to captivate audiences.These programs waged a valiant battle during the isolating year of 2020, and with incredible resilience, rebuilt themselves to their pre-COVID glory. The past years spent crafting strong programs before the pandemic were briefly dismantled but rapidly reconstructed. As Dr. Palmer aptly puts it, “What I’m excited about and proud of is that the growth is not just my effort to recruit more students to the program.” The resurgence continues, with eager middle schoolers joining the ranks of budding artists and thespians. Music and art return to schools, reshaping education, especially within Tuscarora’s vibrant performance community. The growth continued as the band went from forty-two to  and fifty-six art grew from 287 to 307 students. Each program is seeing new maximums in their programs that occurred prior to COVID-19. As the next generation emerges, each passing day eradicates the lingering scars of COVID-19 a little further. Meanwhile, the department shines brighter than ever, a beacon of hope and creativity reviving after challenging times.



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