'Everything that we do, we can't do.' As Big Ten football takes the field, how are the sidelined marching bands coping?

By Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Lifestyles

"In band, I can get to use a totally different part of my brain, and I miss that," says U. of I. alto saxophonist Christensen, who's studying to be a nuclear engineer. "Going to band is kind of a de-stressor."

But though many band directors are "pretty much resigned to the fact that we won't do any in-person meeting until, fingers crossed, 2021," as Northwestern's Farris puts it, that doesn't mean the ensembles have ceased to exist.

Like just about everyone else, the musicians have been convening on Zoom. Unfortunately, the students can't make music together online, partly due to the time lag on the Internet, which makes it impossible to play in synchronicity.

So band directors and students have found other ways to stay connected online. They share information, do health checks, work on stretching exercises. Sometimes one musician will play solo, and the others will try to play along, with their microphones muted. Or they'll give each other assignments to practice particular songs at home.

What they do online "kind of changes every week, every session," says Northwestern student Daehler. "The biggest focus is trying to keep the traditions and the community going on. That's taken a few different forms.

"A lot of time it means spending time in breakout rooms (online) with our section, going through our traditions that make NUMB (Northwestern University Marching Band) special, the quirks that have developed over time that you just pick up on game day or in band camp: This is what we do and how we do it.


"We also focus on the logistics of this: This is how you read a drill chart, if we actually were marching drill."

But how do you practice marching when you're in a little box on a Zoom call?

You can't, of course, though band veterans have been giving incoming musicians some pointers.

"I try to ask them to put the camera on their feet," says U. of I. student Christensen. "I'm a section leader, and I've been leading visual sections, teaching fundamentals to the whole band. It's really tough to teach over Zoom.


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