Sunahara, Levine return to playing music after restrictions on concerts loosen

Sara Brownlee, Staff Writer

Mia Sunahara (11) plays at the opening of School of Rock Del Mar location, Sep. 27. Sunahara plays for a house band at the Scripps Ranch location with Jonathan Levine (11), not pictured. (Courtesy of Mia Sunahara)

Stepping onto a stage for the first time in months, Mia Sunahara (11) and Jonathan Levine (11) see a very different crowd than what they are used to. Instead of packed venues, the band stands on an outdoor stage while masked onlookers are spaced more than six feet from each other and the performers.
“It didn’t have the energy and fun that it did prior to COVID,” Sunahara said.
Sunahara and Levine have been playing together in a house band for School of Rock for a couple months. School of Rock is a program with many locations around the world that offers lessons through performance-based learning where students work with instructors and join show groups that focus on a specific genre of music. House band is a free, audition-based program where students can get live performance experience. Since the opening of the Del Mar location of School of Rock, Levine and Sunahara have been able to play at the Del Mar Plaza multiple times in the past couple months.
Sunahara has been in the program since the end of her freshman year and Levine has been in it since the beginning of his sophomore year.
“I was introduced to School of Rock after I was shown a performance by a few people my grandmother was tutoring, so I did some research, found one nearby, and the rest is history,” Levine said.
Levine plays bass and guitar and focuses on metal and hard rock. Sunahara is the lead singer and doesn’t focus on one specific genre, but likes to perform more energetic songs, which works well with Levine’s love of hard rock and metal.
Since the start of quarantine, practicing with bandmates while following CDC guidelines has been difficult. Protocol prevents the performers touching other instruments or mics, and also requires masks at all times and singers to practice in air-filtered rooms.
“There are a few COVID-related difficulties when it comes to practicing but they are all there in order to keep everyone safe. Just getting used to practicing distance, having the singer in a separate room wearing a mask, wiping everything down all the time, not hugging and being super close to each other, and having temperatures checked a lot [is difficult].”
The limited number of rehearsals made it harder for the band members to improve their skills at the rate they were before and connect with the other people they are playing with.
“The best things to do are to make the best of the rehearsals we have and to practice a lot yourself so you can identify any [individual] issues that come up,” Levine said. “Performing in a band definitely relies a lot more on coordination and cooperation between the players and that comes from rehearsing a lot and getting to know everyone, which is very important.”
Since they have been able to play together more often as restrictions loosen, Sunahra, Levine, and the rest of the band have been able to bond with each other in between songs and after performances. Although they are getting an increased amount of time together each week, easing back into performances has been hard to adjust to because of these rules the venues are required to follow.
“Of course, it’s not exactly as it was before because of the COVID adjustments, but it’s pretty great given the circumstances,” Sunahara said.
As restrictions loosen up, more performance opportunities are opening up for their band.
“We’ve been able to play at the Del Mar Plaza a few times recently,” Sunahara said. “It’s definitely harder to find venues compared to pre-COVID, but we’ve actually been doing pretty well recently. [During] early COVID, we did all of our practices over Zoom. They were definitely not as fun, as we couldn’t hang out and talk or hear each other play. Over Zoom we just played to the track and had our own mics muted while the director would visually check whether the guitar players, bassists, pianists, or drummers were doing their parts correctly.”
Starting to play live shows again has given Sunahara a new appreciation for the program. It has given her more confidence to perform in front of, and with, other people.
“[It’s] nice to be out on stage in a group because you’re all out there together and you’ll either succeed or fail together,” Sunahara said. “Either way you’ll have fun memories to talk about as a group. School of Rock is amazing and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to get more involved in music and gain some live performance experience.”