On Thursday, Sept. 30, at the women’s scrimmage volleyball game, the Western Washington University Marching Band performed together for the first time since winter quarter of 2020.
The crowd clapped and cheered for the marching band as they began to play for their first game since March of 2020—almost two years ago.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and campus shutdown during the 2020-2021 school year, the band was unable to meet up and practice until the spring quarter of last school year. Even then, they had been unable to play at any sporting events until this quarter.
Like every other aspect of campus life currently, the Viking Band is also limited by COVID-19 preventative measures.
“We have a lot [of restrictions],” said Emily Bishop, a flute player in the band. “Usually the practice would be in one of the smaller practice rooms in the Performing Arts Center, but we are instead in the big performance hall, because there’s more space, so we can be more spread out.”
Bishop said other restrictions include wearing masks whenever players have more than eight measures of rest, instruments such as tubas having cloth bell covers on top of the bells and showing COVID-19 clearance badges from the Student Health Center before all events.
Walter Walter, the student director of the Viking Band, said playing at the volleyball game provided an extra level of difficulty.
“The hard part is managing the current restrictions,” Walter said. “No wind players are allowed in the first five rows of the stands, which means right now we don’t necessarily know the best configuration for the band to get our best sound. But we’re continuing to experiment with it.”
Despite the challenges, they said that the performance went very well.
“They sound so good,” Walter said. “Even if it’s hard to hear the brass players in the upper section, that won’t be a problem for long.”
Although the band has not played at a game since March 2020, during spring quarter 2021, members of the band living on and around campus were able to gather together to practice in outdoor spaces.
“We had no band for over a year, so it was really nice to be able to see each other again and do music,” Bishop said.
In the intermediary period between March 2020 and March 2021, the band members were only able to maintain contact with each other digitally.
“We have two different Discord servers,” Walter said. “One of them was made in 2019 just to talk online during the season. And then when we started with just rehearsals we didn’t do any public performances, we just did eight rehearsals in the spring. That group made a second Discord server that we generally used for quick communication that isn’t necessarily formal.”
The band didn’t do much rehearsal digitally during lockdown. For the most part, they just kept social contact through Discord and various group chats.
“I know from experience some people, when they [get] a break, they don’t play their instruments,” Walter said. “There are more than a handful of people that showed up without playing since February of 2020 or even earlier. It did not sound like that. It continues to not sound like that. They blow me away every time. I’m very happy.”
Not only have the returning members continued to perform well, but the integration of a multitude of new members has gone seamlessly as well, Walter said.
“I was prepared for a challenge of getting everyone back up to speed and teaching everyone all our moves, all our cheers and all the music that over half the band hasn’t heard before, but this group is doing a phenomenal job,” they said. “I think [and this is my fifth year being in the Viking Band in some capacity] this is already the best Viking Band that I’ve been in.”
Viking Band has had a similar experience with starting a new season of performances as many other performing groups have had.
Gail Ridenour, the executive director of the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra, commented on their own COVID-19 restrictions and experiences reopening.
“We have a whole host of things in place to try and make sure that we’re keeping everyone safe and healthy,” she said. “Some of them are required by the state of Washington and some of them are things that we decided as an organization.”
Like Viking Band, Bellingham Symphony Orchestra is having all their musicians wear masks, except wind players, who play woodwind and brass instruments, while they are performing.
They are additionally requiring that all the musicians and audience members show proof of vaccination, as well as having on-site COVID-19 testing for all the wind players. These vaccination requirements have been appointed by the orchestra, as opposed by the state guidelines.
“Because the state guidelines can change fairly quickly, we have to be able to adapt to those really quickly,” Ridenour said. “In an effort to not have things changed a lot and not have to redo everything this cycle, we tend to play it a little bit conservative and safe with our health and safety guidelines.”
The orchestra, like Viking Band, is being extra cautious when it comes to COVID-19 safety.
“When I think about people’s health and the health of their families, I wanna make sure I’m doing everything I can to keep everyone safe, because that’s really important to me,” Ridenour said.
Viking Band is still accepting new members, for anyone interested in joining.
“We will be taking people as long as we’re playing throughout the year,” Walter said. “There’s no pressure to attend everything. We’d love you to attend everything you can, but as long as you can play an instrument in some capacity, we’d love to have you.”
Unless there are changes with school or state COVID-19 regulations, the Viking Band will continue to play at sporting events throughout the year.
Sam Pearce is a third-year Journalism and Creative Writing double major at WWU. He writes for Campus Life at The Front. He also enjoys pop music, obscenely long sci-fi/fantasy novels, and kaiju movies from the 90s. You can contact him via email firstname.lastname@example.org.