Students recapture a lost sense of expression on stage - let the show begin!

Everyone in Marta Bailey’s family played the violin and viola.  

So, the Fort Collins High School freshman picked up the cello, a pretty instrument that drew her attention instead. 

“I just think it’s really cool to be connected to everyone,” Bailey said of what music means to her. It’s about taking different parts and feeling that cohesion when they come together. 

She shared her story backstage as her Concert Orchestra classmates rehearsed for their first in-person concert since the COVID-19 pandemic dropped the curtain on performers worldwide over a year ago.  

“When everything shut down for COVID, it felt like a part of my life was missing,” Bailey said. “It’s emotional to play in orchestra again.” It’s good to be back together. 

This is a sentiment shared by people of all ages and crafts across Poudre School District. After months of virtual performing arts classes and concerts, there is excitement – and some performance jitters – about returning to the stage.  

  • Fort Collins High School students play the violin
    Fort Collins High School Concert Orchestra students prepare for an upcoming concert, the first in-person Concert Orchestra performance since the start of the COVID pandemic. They rehearsed pieces, as well as on-stage routines to be ready for their audience.
  • The Fort Collins High School orchestra rehearses on stage.
    Fort Collins High School Concert Orchestra students prepare for an upcoming concert, the first in-person Concert Orchestra performance since the start of the COVID pandemic. They rehearsed pieces, as well as on-stage routines to be ready for their audience.
  • A Fort Collins High School student plays the cello.
    Fort Collins High School Concert Orchestra students prepare for an upcoming concert, the first in-person Concert Orchestra performance since the start of the COVID pandemic. They rehearsed pieces, as well as on-stage routines to be ready for their audience.

Webber's first concert in 20 months

“It’s so exciting, because … we’re acoustic musicians,” Webber Band Director and Music Department Chair Jana Webster-Wheeler said, as her Jazz Band students packed up their instruments and traded places with the incoming Symphonic Band class one October morning at Webber Middle School. “It’s being human at the most intimate level.”  

Before diving into a technical warmup with chords and scales, Webster-Wheeler reminded students about their upcoming performance at Webber. 

“Your first concert, and the first concert here at the Webb in 20 months, is in two weeks,” the 23-year PSD employee said, standing at a lectern with an “It’s OK I’m with the Band” sticker. The announcement was met with eager nods of heads and a couple of cheers. 

Addison Schofield discovered her love for the baritone, or “tiny tuba,” while visiting Webber in fifth grade. Now an eighth grader, Schofield said it is unnerving to think about getting on stage again, but she was excited for that “feeling of everyone watching you and showing what you’ve learned.”  

Like so many of their peers in PSD, Schofield and percussionist Jordan Lucero, also an eighth grader, played in front of their computers during remote learning. Students were often asked to mute their device speakers, so they could hear themselves play, but they couldn’t harmonize together. Teachers like Webster-Wheeler would later splice every student’s parts together to make one concert recording, pulling off a miracle, her students say. And she wasn’t the only one.  

“It kind of hurts to think about,” Schofield said, remembering her beloved teacher’s painstaking and much-appreciated work to create synchronization.  

  • A Webber Middle School student plays the trumpet.
    Webber Middle School’s Jazz Band and Symphonic Band held its first in-person performance since the start of the pandemic on Oct. 21 at “The Web.” The musicians were most excited to perform a variation of Journey’s hit-song “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
  • A Webber Middle School music student plays the drums.
    Webber Middle School’s Jazz Band and Symphonic Band held its first in-person performance since the start of the pandemic on Oct. 21 at “The Web.” The musicians were most excited to perform a variation of Journey’s hit-song “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
  • A Webber Middle School student conducts the band during practice.
    Webber Middle School’s Jazz Band and Symphonic Band held its first in-person performance since the start of the pandemic on Oct. 21 at “The Web.” The musicians were most excited to perform a variation of Journey’s hit-song “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

PHS students prepare for "The Little Mermaid"

Across town at Poudre High School (PHS), ribbon legs unfurled from an umbrella jelly fish costume, a plastic Nemo fish peaked out of a pool-noodle coral headdress, towering castle props cut from foam lay splayed across the stage,  and warm voices rose together to sing “Kiss the Girl,” as Poudre Theatre students prepared for “The Little Mermaid.”  

Joel Smith, who teaches theater, English and yearbook at PHS, commended students for being creative and flexible every time a show was postponed, canceled or moved to virtual during the pandemic. The fall musical is a highlight, and everyone was heartbroken when the troupe couldn’t perform it this past school year. On top of that, PHS has been trying to secure the rights to this musical for years, making their opening night on Oct. 29 an even bigger deal than ever before. 

“To have them here,” Smith motioned to a group of about 40 students practicing on risers outside his office, songbooks in hand, “I don’t have words.”  

“It’s not normal,” he admitted, describing the current circumstances, which require performers to wear masks and significant distance between the stage and first row of the audience.  

“But it’s a teaspoon of normal.”  

Down a flight of stairs that led beneath Poudre High’s auditorium stage, students worked to bring to life dozens of bright, aquatic costumes that popped from the pages of paraprofessional Kari Armstrong’s sketchbook.  

“I think they take all of this out into the world,” said Armstrong, as she guided fabric through a sewing machine. In her 17 years, she has seen her theater students learn to work as a team; realize how easy it is to use new equipment and materials to make something stunning; get jobs in theater and costume-making; and make lifelong friendships along the way.  

  • Poudre High School singers rehearse The Little Mermaid.
    Poudre High School students rehearse songs, build sets and craft costumes for their debut of “The Little Mermaid.” The PHS theater group has been trying for years to get the rights to perform the musical and finally secured them, marking a triumphant return to the stage.
  • A PHS student works on a costume for The Little Mermaid performance.
    Poudre High School students rehearse songs, build sets and craft costumes for their debut of “The Little Mermaid.” The PHS theater group has been trying for years to get the rights to perform the musical and finally secured them, marking a triumphant return to the stage.
  • A PHS student works on a costume for The Little Mermaid performance.
    Poudre High School students rehearse songs, build sets and craft costumes for their debut of “The Little Mermaid.” The PHS theater group has been trying for years to get the rights to perform the musical and finally secured them, marking a triumphant return to the stage.

PSD’s youngest students grow through performance art 

Seated on the floor in rainbow-colored boxes marked in tape, members of Zach Elementary School’s Gold Choir sang before school during their second practice since spring 2020. Alyssa Johnson, Zach’s Music teacher, said that what they learn in music connects to what they’re learning in Art, Math and English Language Arts. Music even has fractions, to the surprise of her students, as they learn about music measures, half notes and quarter notes. 

A light bulb goes on for them when they realize that everything they’re learning is intertwined.  

One by one, the fourth graders’ hands shot in the air, as they waited to share why they love and are excited for choir’s return. “Singing the ‘Star Spangled Banner!’” one said. “Getting to play music,” another said, shyly.  

“Artistic expression is something they can’t get anywhere else,” said John Hermanson, director of Orchestras for Fort Collins High School, describing the power of the performing arts. Students learn self-discipline and that “you can’t always get instant results” – it takes time and commitment to improve.  

“It also gives them a place to belong, which right now is the most important thing,” he said. 

  • A Zach Elementary School fourth-grader looks at her music.
    The Zach Elementary School Gold Choir held its second in-person practice since the pandemic began. The fourth-grade vocalists are excited the school club is going again and eager to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at an upcoming Colorado Eagles hockey game, a Zach choir tradition.
  • A Zach Elementary School fourth-grader looks at her music.
    The Zach Elementary School Gold Choir held its second in-person practice since the pandemic began. The fourth-grade vocalists are excited the school club is going again and eager to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at an upcoming Colorado Eagles hockey game, a Zach choir tradition.
  • The Zach Elementary music teacher leads singers during class.
    The Zach Elementary School Gold Choir held its second in-person practice since the pandemic began. The fourth-grade vocalists are excited the school club is going again and eager to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at an upcoming Colorado Eagles hockey game, a Zach choir tradition.