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Western’s Viking Band picks up its instruments after a long rest

A set of trombones rest on a lawn. Western Washington University's Viking Band is ready to pick up where they left off after a year without practice. // Photo via Pixabay

With the pandemic cancelling practices and athletic events, the Viking Band had nowhere to go. Now, they’re back and have some catching up to do

You may remember them in the stands at volleyball and basketball games, their music filling the gymnasium, the unique posters being waved, the synchronized dancing and their unwavering energy — The Viking Band.

The Viking Band has always been a key figure at athletic events, but with the ongoing pandemic, those events have been few and far between. Forced to disband for the past year, they came back together on April 20 for their first practice.

Although the practice came with restrictions, the majority of students were just happy to be together again. 

“It’s been great to be able to come back to campus and do something semi-normal, even with the extra restrictions,” Viking Band Director Zachary Smith said. “It’s been a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to riding out the quarter in this relaxed setting where we can just play to play and not worry about deadlines.”

The band is required to hold practices outside where wind instruments can be 9 feet apart and percussionists can be 6 feet apart. Smith said he pushed for personal protection equipment for the band, but due to budget restraints and the increased prices of equipment, it just wasn't possible. 

“It was deemed our spacing and being outdoors would be enough,” Smith said. The band is currently practicing outside the performing arts center and near the red sculpture.

Ellie Monroe, a fourth-year at Western and this year’s trombone section leader, took matters into her own hands and started sewing bell covers for her fellow trombone players. Bell covers are made from cloth and elastic sewn together and fit over the bell of wind instruments as a mask. 

Finding outdoor practice times amidst Bellingham’s notoriously rainy spring weather can be challenging. 

“We’ve been fortunate enough to have good weather that isn’t too windy or wet, hopefully the nice weather stays and we can play together more,” Smith said. 

The weather isn’t the only obstacle for the Viking Band to overcome when practicing their music outside. Sound carries in open spaces, and some community members aren’t too happy about the new songs floating in their windows.

“Hopefully if everyone gets vaccinated, we’ll be able to play indoors during fall quarter,” Monroe said. “We had a community member come out and yell at us, and he was not polite about it. We’d rather not get any more complaints or disrupt others while practicing.”

Before gatherings like indoor practices can happen, Western needs to put preventative measures in place to ensure there won’t be a spike in positive cases on campus. 

According to Dr. Greg Stern and Public Information Officer Melissa Morin from the Whatcom County Health Department, these measures include:

  • Clear communication between Western and the Whatcom County Health Department to ensure fast and efficient contact tracing
  • Vaccination
  • Masking
  • Distancing
  • Avoiding large gatherings 

Last year, the Viking Band had a consistent 60 members, but this year, they have only 35. Some members aren’t in Bellingham right now and some aren’t ready to come back just yet, Smith said. 

The Viking Band means something different to everybody, but to the members who play together, it’s not just a band, it’s a family. 

“It was just so amazing to practice together again,” Monroe said. “Honestly, I’m so happy to get back to it and I missed it so much. I’ve been doing band since I was in third grade, and the friends I made in high school marching band were the reason I moved back to Western for college. The pep band has been my second family so it felt so good to get back together.”

Monroe attributes the band’s closeness to Smith, the director.  

“Our band director, Zach, has poured his heart and soul into this band and we all love him so much,” Monroe said. “He puts so much time and effort into the band and we all really appreciate him for making this a safe environment.”

Although there’s steps to be taken before going back to complete normalcy and playing at athletic events, students remain optimistic. Being able to play together again has been a small step toward regular life. 

“It’s being able to do something together in a real setting instead of over Zoom or by yourself,” Smith said. “Right now, we don’t have a real purpose, so we’re basically just playing to play together. It’s a big step up and has been enjoyed by everyone.”

Hannah VanO

Hannah VanOis a senior communications major with a public relations minor and reporter for The Front. Her work focuses on campus news. When not reporting, Hannah loves spending time with her pets and being outside. You can reach her at

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