Play On! Widener Marching Band Finds Innovative and Safe Ways to Perform During Pandemic
What does a university marching band do when a global pandemic cancels the fall football season?
They get creative.
That’s exactly what the Widener University Marching Band has done, finding new and innovative ways to keep members together and performing during these unusual times. And this fall, several band members even had the chance to participate in a national performance on a pretty big (albeit virtual) stage.
“We’re trying to keep students engaged and making music. So when we finally take the field or stage again, our program is still intact,” said band director Iain Moyer.
Beyond maintaining individual and group lessons virtually, the 75-member strong band has taken on several special projects, including a hybrid video version of the Widener alma mater, Blue & Gold, a piece originally composed by artist-in-residence John Vanore '69, with lyrics by Nancy Huebner ’84.
The marching band’s rendition is a combination of submitted videos of student musicians playing at home, and three students from Widener’s a cappella group, Keepin’ It Trill, providing vocals. There are also musicians and color guard members performing together on campus — outside, masked, and socially-distanced. Special face masks and bell covers were used for the wind ensemble to help block aerosol droplets.
The video clips were then edited together, and the audio synchronized, to create the finished product.
It’s important to keep people together and COVID didn’t really stop us from that. It’s been especially beneficial for our first-year students, many of whom were completely virtual in the fall, so they get the experience to meet and interact with people. The band program is still growing and evolving, and we want to show prospective students we’re still able to play. — Meghan Bell ’21 ’23, drum major
Four members of the band also got a chance to join their counterparts from other colleges and universities to create a performance for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in January.
Color guard members Mason Klaus ’22 and Lauren Rappa ’23, and mallet percussionists Nicole Mettler ’24 and Seth Zimmerman ’22, were selected to contribute clips for a marching band video performance of Beyonce’s “End of Time,” which played in the stadium during halftime of the game and was streamed on YouTube. The four Widener students joined 1,500 performers from 200 bands across the country.
The video performance came together thanks in large part to Widener’s color guard instructor Jeremy Williams, who was looking for projects for the Pride color guard to take part in. Knowing other marching bands were in the same boat with lost or severely curtailed seasons, Williams teamed up with other organizations and companies to form the Intercollegiate Marching Band (IMB), a group designed to bring band members together.
The IMB reached out to the College Band Directors National Association and got the halftime project off the ground.
“It was a pretty monumental thing to take on,” said Williams. “It has fostered a community of college band students interacting with each other. It’s given me a new love and respect for the college marching band world. Normally band members show up somewhere, play, and leave. But here the idea is to create community.”
Klaus, Widener’s color guard captain who performs flag and rifle work on the IMB video, said it was exciting to see herself in the final version and to be part of something so big.
“I’ve always been part of a small guard, so you go to this joint meeting with the performers and you see everyone’s excitement and passion about band. It reminded me why I like marching band,” said the biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering major. “This year has been really hard but it’s really great to have an immediate connection with such a larger community.”
Elements of the Widener marching band are working on other projects that can be created safely in person or virtually. The band’s drumline came together on campus in the Bown Garden to film PMC #3, a traditional drum cadence previously performed by the Pennsylvania Military College drum section.
Widener band lessons have continued virtually, though with modifications since Zoom and other video conference platforms have slight audio delays, making simultaneous play impossible.
“Instead, lessons are more of a conversation, back and forth” between student and instructor, said Moyer.
For the color guard, rehearsals have been both in person and virtual. Performing together in a socially-distanced fashion is natural for the guard since the length of their flags forces members at least six feet apart lest they hit each other.
Virtual color guard lessons have been more collaborative than in the past, with members designing their own performances, a first for some students.
“It’s so nice to perform again even if it’s in a different setting and not for people actually there,” said Rappa, an English and psychology major who rehearses and films herself in her backyard at home. “I think I’m giving the whole neighborhood a show.”