Campus, Coronavirus, News

BU Bands discuss keeping up morale through changes, restrictions

boston university pep band performs in front of the george sherman union
Boston University Pep Band performs in front of the George Sherman Union. Non-music major ensembles at BU have adapted to changing COVID-19 guidelines throughout the school year to continue performing and bonding as a group. COURTESY OF AARON GOLDBERG

The social distancing guidelines put in place after the initial COVID-19 outbreak last spring included no large gatherings, face coverings and six feet of social distance from others.

For music ensembles at Boston University, these rules have affected more than their large performances.

BU Jazz Ensemble, BU Pep Band and the Marching Bands are non-music major ensembles that serve the integral role of giving all students an opportunity to play in ensembles.

Michael Barsano, director of university ensembles, said strict social distancing measures must be observed when rehearsing inside.

He said the ensembles adapted as best they could to the new social distancing rules for wind and brass players, with the priority of keeping the ensembles active in a safe way throughout the year.

“Majority of our students are actually studying outside of the College of Fine Arts,” Barsano said. “By keeping this program going, that’s the School of Music’s dedication to making sure that all students at BU, if they want to have music-making opportunities, it’s available to them.”

Amit Bhatia is a freshman in the Questrom School of Business and has been a member of the Jazz Band since he arrived on campus last semester. He plays drum kit and said the Jazz Band has been focusing on their collective work in light of no performances.

“We’ve kind of been playing mostly as a jazz collective,” he said. “We did some swing stuff and then we moved into some funk stuff and then some Latin stuff … our goal was to be able to run through the piece and play as though we were performing just for ourselves.”

Bhatia said in addition to the Jazz Band, other ensembles such as Pep Band and Orchestra were recently given the green light from BU’s Medical Advisory Group to resume in-person rehearsals with wind instruments while following strict COVID-19 guidelines.

After a semester of virtual meetings and assignments on SmartMusic — an online music learning platform — Pep Band clarinetist and College of General Studies sophomore Taylor Hill was excited to return to in-person rehearsals just a few weeks ago.

Before the change in practice guidelines, the Pep Band would watch hockey games together and participate in weekly Zoom meetings to maintain a semblance of normalcy. On one occasion, they gathered at the George Sherman Union to replicate a rehearsal.

“We even brought our instruments, but we just weren’t allowed to actually play them,” she said. “We were just singing and fingering through and doing all the horn moves, talking about any traditions.”

Hill said during her freshman year, the weekly obligations of performing at men’s and women’s hockey as well as basketball games kept her integrated in the BU culture — an aspect she now misses.

“A lot of the reason why I do band is not just playing my instrument,” she said. “That’s something I could do by myself alone in my dorm room if I wanted to, but it’s the social aspect.”

She added having the opportunity to participate in these activities now has been good for her mental well-being.

“Now that I am on campus,” Hill said, “honestly for my mental health and having something that I can go to is really, really beneficial.”

College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Julia Hu is a member of the Marching Band, playing marimba and xylophone in the front of the ensemble.

While the band would typically perform throughout the year with a complex routine, she said distancing guidelines have prevented the band from incorporating movement.

“It’s really hard to make a show with moving formations when everyone has to be six feet apart,” Hu said, “and there are so many people and there’s only so much space on the field.”

Unlike other ensembles at BU, the marching band was able to rehearse outside, allowing wind players to participate. The band also maintained a similar practice schedule of two to three rehearsals a week during the season.

Hu is currently a member of the Spring drumline, which has only one wind player in the ensemble.

“This is our escape,” Hu said. “Most of the time we spend doing problem sets or I spend a lot of time coding. So, two or three times a week, I get to just think about music and focus on just that.”

All of the ensembles will finish the semester with in-person rehearsals provided there is proper distancing. For Barsano, the return to in-person playing is something he said he believes will benefit students.

“I think a lot of our students see it as a way to relieve stress,” he said. “With everything going on, anything that can do that, I think was important to keep going as long as possible.”

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