Masks, Brass, and Marching Band
My freshman year, I had the great pleasure of being one of the 330 Marching Virginians that took the field at halftime during Virginia Tech football games. It was an invaluable experience, because it showed me that the Hokie football culture doesn’t just concern football. There are countless contributors to this culture, and the band is no exception.
For as long as college football has been around, there have been bands to pump up the fans. It can even be argued that marching bands influence the amount of intensity present in the game. The Marching Virginians have done that for the Hokie community and so much more. They are an integral part of the game day experience and have a special place in Hokie hearts.
Given the current pandemic, many things that we’ve grown accustomed to have changed. For us football fans, there was a time when we didn’t know if there’d be a season to play. Ultimately, the college football gods ruled in our favor and we now have a season, but that season has looked starkly different from ones before.
Given the significant role the Marching Virginians play in Virginia Tech Athletics, I investigated what allowed them to be present this year. The MV’s have been present in some form or fashion at every home game for the 2020 season. What procedures were put in place and now 7 games into the season, how have those procedures held up and impacted the season for this year’s members?
I talked to Nabra Asgedom, a current Mechanical Engineering senior and section leader for the tuba section, about how the Marching Virginians have changed this year. After our conversation, I was shocked to see the amount of work that went in for this season to work. I would characterize his responses into three integral parts: a strong tone set by band leadership, a variety of Covid-19 protocols that were put in place, and an overall desire by members to make marching band work in a pandemic.
Polly Middleton is the Director of Athletic Bands at Virginia Tech. She is a long tenured musician and director, and that experience has served her well in responding to this pandemic. Asgedom stated to me that a big reason he came back for his senior season was that he was assured by leadership that every precaution would be taken to ensure the safety of members. Middleton did just that. Knowing how much the MVs meant to the community and its members and regardless if football was played, she wanted to find any way to have a season. She did extensive research and contacted band directors around the country with one goal in mind. How could she safely and effectively have a Marching Virginian season in the midst of a pandemic?
Through her research, she established a game plan that could work. All band members would be required to social distance when at practice and at games. Members would wear not one, but two masks while doing anything MV related. One mask would have a slit cut out of it where the mouthpiece goes in order to play the instrument. The second mask would go over the first and would allow members to safely talk to their peers and directors.
In addition to social distancing and masks, the instruments themselves have been modified to limit potential spread. Brass instruments have covers put over their bells and woodwind instruments, that have holes throughout the entire instrument, are placed in bags when played. These precautions were put in place to limit the number of aerosols that departed the instrument while playing.
All of these precautions wouldn’t work if not for the hard work and dedication from this year’s Marching Virginian members. When speaking with Asgedom, he told me that the band has really found a new appreciation for this activity that they all love. “A lot of us realize how much about the MVs we took for granted and now that it’s gone, we all take the precautions seriously and appreciate the season that we have,” Asgedom said. And while the beginning of this season was very different, he says that the band has established this as their new “normal”.
It was evident to me that this version of the Marching Virginians was vastly different than when I was a freshman rookie. Despite all that, there are things that hold true four years later. There is still a sense of pride, tradition, and Hokie Spirit that the MVs march and play with. Even through a global pandemic, they have found ways to safely participate in the activity that they love. They have truly met the challenges in order to provide an aspect of Hokie Football that we all know and love.