At the Renaissance School of the Arts, a public middle school in East Harlem, they're getting the eighth grade band back together.

Roberto Gandara is the music teacher and band conductor. 

“The most exciting thing was just playing together and be able to have everyone in a room and work together and banter and have fun and discuss things,” Gandara said.

What You Need To Know

  • The full band is back together at the Renaissance School of the Arts in East Harlem

  • Students wear masks with a hole cut out for their mouths while they play their instruments

  • They say it's much better to play in person than it was to practice over Zoom

It’s the first time since March of 2020 that all students are back in class — and back in the band. Gandara says conducting students via Zoom during the pandemic was incredibly difficult.

“It's very difficult to monitor progress and to know how to help someone when they're not in front of you,” he said.

Of course, playing together in person during a pandemic comes with its own challenges, but the band is using the same protocols conservancies have adopted.

“Masks that have a hole, and we use covers for the bells,” he explained, playing some notes on his trumpet.

For the students, playing in person — and alongside the teacher they call Mr. G. — is a major improvement.

"We can actually interact with Mr. G, and he can help us with our fingerings and stuff,” eighth grader Hiram DeJesus said.

“He takes his time with the students and he doesn’t get, like, frustrated, he has a lot of patience with everyone,” his classmate Chyann Epps said.

Working virtually did lead to one positive partnership: musicians from the Metropolitan Orchestra taught virtual master classes, and are keeping the relationship going. 

"We find it extremely valuable for us to be here in the school with the children, who are immensely talented, and funny, and just bring us so much joy,” Met musician Barbara Currie said.

With the Met's help, Gandara plans to expand his band to an orchestra, reaching even more children.

“We're here, we're doing this, we are helping students find direction in life. Because music is a profession. So in essence, those of us who choose to continue, this is what they will do for the rest of their lives,” he said.