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How Taking Part in Band or Chorus Enhances Students’ Experience at Our Private Academy

Ed Richards and Michael DeMato have had major roles in Randolph-Macon Academy’s (R-MA) Visual and Performing Arts program. Ed Richards has been R-MA’s Bandmaster for the past 43 years, and Michael DeMato has been R-MA’s Choral Director since 2010. Through the programs they lead, both Richards and DeMato aim to help students develop a greater appreciation for music and performing, as well as help them become better leaders and citizens. 

We recently spoke to Ed Richards and Michael DeMato to gain their perspectives on Band and Chorus, adapting their programs to the COVID-19 pandemic, and what the near future holds for the programs. Read on to find out what they had to say.

Band: Helping Students Develop a Love for Music and Performing

Ed Richards first joined R-MA in 1978. Currently, Richards directs our Air Force JROTC band and teaches Band to Middle School students. Richards began his first year with a class of 12 students, however, that number quickly grew to 28 students by the same year’s end. Since then, R-MA’s award-winning Marching & Concert Band program has seen students perform at major events across the country. Students have also gone on to pursue music after graduation. “We’ve had a few students over the years that have gone into music, majored in music in college, played in college bands, and even played professionally,” Richards says.

Ed Richards has been R-MA’s Bandmaster for 43 years, starting in 1978

When asked about his proudest accomplishment at R-MA thus far, Richards mentions performing at the NRA’s Celebration of American Values Freedom Experience from 2010 to 2012 and acting as treasurer and organizer for the Military School Band and Choir Festival. R-MA has hosted multiple times, but it has travelled nationwide. “A couple of years ago, we were in New Mexico,” he says. “We’ve been in Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, Vermont, and South Carolina. It’s a big deal. I’ve put that together and made that work.”

Chorus: Using Singing to Help Students Harness Their Creativity

Michael DeMato leads R-MA’s Chorus program as its Chorus Director and teaches other classes in Music and Drama as well. He also serves as this year’s Senior Faculty Advisor. Having begun at our coeducational private school in 2010, DeMato credits the role music plays in people’s lives—even just listening—as a factor behind how the program helps students grow. “Having that as an option, and being a part of a student’s daily or weekly life, is really helpful in development and to have a creative outlet,” he says. “Kids need that.”

DeMato says he has also seen students increasingly audition to be part of district and state choir groups. Interestingly, The Military School Band and Choir Festival did not have a choir component when he started teaching at our academy. “To have R-MA students attend that as singers, and not just instrumentalists or drum majors, was a nice addition,” he adds.

Michael DeMato is the Chorus Director at R-MA, as well as this year’s Senior Faculty Advisor

How the Programs Have Adapted to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Usually, the Band program at our private academy performs at concerts, parades, and sporting events, as well as travels to perform, including an annual trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. Our Chorus program has also performed nationwide and statewide, such as at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, home to Virginia’s Governor. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into these opportunities.

In the meantime, R-MA’s Band program has allowed for indoor practicing. The ventilation system must remain on, and masks must be placed on the instruments to prevent droplet transmission. Students are also spaced 10 feet apart, which means they must be separated into multiple sections. Chorus students must sing outside with a mask on, and stand at least 10 feet away from another person. Indoors, they can hum. R-MA Chorus students began singing outdoors during the fall semester of this school year. “Kids still want to sing,” DeMato says. “We’re trying to make it work as best as possible.”

What Students at Our Private Academy Can Expect Going Forward

Chorus will continue to have students participate in virtual initiatives. Last year, students made collaborative videos after leaving campus for the summer, so that they could still perform and sing for graduation. Technology will continue to be involved in some capacity, as will spacing, if need be. Furthermore, Warren County, as well as other counties in Virginia, are attempting to hold virtual auditions for district and state choir groups, for students who are interested. “Because there’s only a handful of students that audition for those select groups, until things ease up, we’re trying to work on the virtual collaboration [for all of our students],” DeMato says.

For Band, the hope is for students to have a role at R-MA’s year-end ceremonies, even if their usual parade is unlikely this year due to social distancing requirements. Band performances will take place outdoors, and continue to involve mandatory spacing and masked instruments. Although no firm plans have been made as of yet, virtual performances are also on the table. “We are working on some concert literature that we hopefully can perform,” Richards says. “That may be a virtual performance with no audience, whether it’s posted on YouTube or Facebook, so that parents can see it.”

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