The sounds of the pep band fill the room, and students play Sacred Heart University’s fight song, creating the classic tune with their various instruments. Big Red stands alongside the band, dancing to the beat. “Pioneer Blast, a virtual band concert on Thursday, April 1, has begun.
However, this spirited environment is far from normal for Sacred Heart’s pep band. Due to COVID-19, the players were masked, six feet apart and performed without the support of a physical audience. Instead, they played for a virtual broadcast.
“It feels weird that after my 12 years of playing the saxophone, my final performances are going to be virtual,” said senior Jillian Milano.
In March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country, causing universities and schools to remain closed for several months. Many students find themselves in Milano’s situation, feeling that their final moments of college are less than expected.
“I will admit, it is upsetting that my final hoorah of playing isn’t in the presence of my family and friends, but I am beyond grateful that we are able to have performances despite all that COVID-19 has taken away,” said Milano.
Despite the changes that Milano and the rest of the band face, she still has found ways to enjoy the last few months she has as a performer. While concerts and practices may be a little different, the sounds of the performance are not.
“My favorite piece that we performed in this past concert is ‘Shipping Up to Boston.’ I played this piece throughout my high school experience and I love the energy that goes through the band when we play it,” said Milano.
“Shipping up to Boston” is only one of the many pieces played during the concert. Others include Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance,” Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacey’s Mom” and The White Stripes’s “Seven Nation Army.”
While these pieces only take minutes to perform, they take much longer to put together.
“We have been preparing since the beginning of the spring semester,” said freshman flutist, Maggie Lalor.
Like Milano, Lalor agrees that even a global pandemic cannot stop the upbeat atmosphere the band produces.
“Apart from the fact that we had to follow COVID-19 guidelines, we learned the music the same way and had a great time doing it,” said Lalor.
The energy of the band stays the same, even at a distance. In order to protect the student body, Sacred Heart has implemented many guidelines for the campus to follow. This includes mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and no crowds.
“Under normal circumstances, we as a band would practice the pieces on the stage or in the band room. Typically, we would play through the pieces in concert order and then go back and fix specific parts of the pieces that sounded muddy or unclear,” said Milano. “Since COVID-19 started, we still prepare for a concert in the same manner, with the only difference being that we are socially distanced throughout the Edgerton rather than sitting next to one another.”
Social distancing remains a large difference for many group events, Sacred Heart’s band included. Instead of an audience coming together, viewers tuned into a broadcast on Vimeo, a video sharing and streaming website.
Lalor had a positive outlook on this aspect of the performance.
“The livestream allowed even more people to watch the show, instead of everyone having to congregate at one location,” said Lalor.
While performing may look different for Sacred Heart’s pep band amidst COVID-19, the music persists.