The Culbreth Road Parking Garage Never Sounded So Good
The release of a new mask mandate just five days before the first UVA band camp last August presented a huge challenge to Dr. Elliott Tackitt and his team, Dr. Andrew Koch (Associate Director of Bands) and Michael Idzior (Assistant Director of Bands.) In the face of these new restrictions, they immediately set to work on adjusting their August Band Camp schedule dramatically. To maximize rehearsal time and be compliant with the new mask policy, they beat the summer heat by rehearsing in the Culbreth Parking Garage to take advantage of the fact that the garage was open on all four sides to practice without masks.
Tackitt, an internationally-experienced clinician, educator, and conductor, arrived in Charlottesville in late July. He had previously served on the faculties of the University of Michigan and Arizona State University and served as Associate Director of Bands at Northern Arizona University.
Like so many band directors around the country, he and his team have continually evolved to make things work even as the playing field shifted under their feet. “During Band Camp, we sometimes relied on recordings, to which students could practice along without actually playing their instruments indoors,” he said, “or, we’d ask them to audiate while silently practicing their music, which means they’re hearing the music in their minds that they aren’t actually physically performing at the moment. As a result, we were able to avoid having them blow air through their wind instruments, but still have valuable repetition time.”
These were just the latest challenges for the UVA Band program, with students being benched from in-person performances for nearly 17 months by the time Tackitt took over. But upon his arrival in Charlottesville, he found a band that benefited from the extraordinary leadership by Bill Pease, the longtime Director of the CMB, and by his fellow Directors. “It’s my privilege to serve as Bill Pease’s successor,” Tackitt said. “One of the many things Bill did here was lay a rock-solid foundation for the students and the program. This is due in part to the incredible support offered by Drew Koch and Mike Idzior.”
In that vein, the program has greatly benefited from the leadership shown by Tackitt’s current colleagues. “Drew and Mike continue to do a fantastic job supporting our students and meeting the many challenges of running a program the size of UVA Bands,” he said. “During the early days of the pandemic, and all of the 2020-2021 school year, they were able to keep our students engaged musically and socially through distanced performing projects they created and released. I really credit them for continuing to find ways for our students to participate in music and around music together, and to feel like they hadn’t lost touch with their sense of musical community more than was unavoidable.”
The sense of community was immediately clear to Tackitt in the band’s first welcome meeting. “Here these students were, finally all able to be together in our building, and just to witness the number of them who hadn’t seen each other in weeks, months, or maybe over a year, and to watch the hugs exchanged and their smiles as they rekindled those social networks was powerful.”
Tackitt’s own passion for marching band was cultivated at an early age. He was a member of a nationally-ranked band program in his native Canton, Michigan. He began teaching marching band the week after he graduated high school and has never looked back. He recognizes the same passion in his students that he felt when he was marching in their shoes. “The appreciation the band members had for each other, for the band as an institution, and the traditions behind it was palpable, and as you can imagine, that is an important foundation for a healthy band program.”
The student’s commitment to community extends beyond the field and outside of Grounds. “This past summer, we polled members of our student leadership team to get a sense of what was important to them going into this school year. They voiced a strong desire to give back to the community, so we decided to use some of our non-football weekends to create optional Community Impact Days, which included a performance for the residents at Martha Jefferson House and a clothing drive that will result in a substantial gift to a local shelter or not-for-profit that provides the clothing to people in need. “I am really proud of that spirit of giving back in these students, and l look forward to working with them to continue to find ways to create more opportunities like this for years to come.”