As students arrive for classes for what will be a most unusual fall semester, a sorely missed sound is returning to campus after a lengthy hiatus.
The sound in question is the University of Wisconsin’s fight song “On Wisconsin,” which once again echoes throughout campus as the UW Marching Band resumes practice for the new school year.
The UW campus has been without the marching band since the group was temporarily disbanded in March due to the campus closure just weeks before its annual spring concert at the Kohl Center.
Normal fall activities for members of the band usually entail preparing for football home games and prepping music for performances, but due to the Big Ten’s cancellation of the 2020 football season, the band was forced to change gears.
While they would normally be in the thick of their Registration Week to close out August, the band is only just beginning to welcome back certain members, as the organization complies with the newly implemented COVID-19 restrictions on campus.
“Being a senior in the UW Marching Band during COVID is definitely far from what I expected my final year to look like,” senior trombone player Will Awve said. “Although I’ll miss a lot about our regular activities and game days, I’m grateful to be able to continue our work as a band.”
This year has brought many changes to the marching band. Along with constant six-foot social distancing, band members must now wear a protective face mask at all times.
For members who play wind instruments, their mask must have a slit in it to fit their mouthpiece, which then needs to be covered by a second mask whenever an instrument is not in use.
Senior drum major Joshua Richlen noted the masks, while important, are troublesome for both new and returning members alike.
“The masks have presented a lot of challenges for everyone. Getting in full breaths has been hard for everyone, especially the wind instruments,” Richlen said. “It is not ideal to have to wear the masks, but it is necessary to keep everyone safe.”
In addition to face coverings, all wind instruments now sport a specially-made cover over their bells, meant to act as an extra filter for air exiting the instrument.
Studies conducted over the summer found that these bell covers can keep COVID from spreading through the air created by playing a wind instrument.
“[Wearing a mask] took some getting used to but it’s not a big deal anymore, honestly,” sophomore snare drummer Nick Kuzoff said. “I conditioned for band over the summer always wearing a mask, so not wearing one feels like a distant memory.”
In additional changes for this semester, the marching band has been divided into 13 groups of 25 people, which practice weekly on a rotating basis between three shared practice locations.
This is in contrast to the band’s normal fall practice schedule of Tuesday through Saturday, which will severely limit the amount of time the band spends together.
These groups will also rehearse for a total of an hour and a half each week as opposed to the previous eight-plus weekly hours of practice the marching band is accustomed to.
Despite these many challenges, Richlen remains hopeful for the chance to perform again soon.
“I am optimistic that throughout the year, the coronavirus situation will improve and we will be able to slowly move back to normalcy,” Richlen said. “I think the first performance we have will be really special.”
Band Director Corey Pompey also touched on the band’s performance perspectives, noting that while much still remains up in the air, the band has yet to rule out a return to the spotlight for the fall semester.
“We do hope to have some performances this semester,” Pompey said. “If we are able to perform, they will likely be very small groups.”
This fall semester will be all but routine for the UW Marching Band, but we can remain certain the band will do its best to raise campus morale just like it always has.
“The band radiates positivity and pride for our school and I just hope we get the chance to share that publicly this year,” Awve said. “With everything going on in the world right now, I think we could all use some fifth quarter.”