This semester hasn’t looked the same for any organization on campus, and the Michigan Marching Band is no exception. For the first time since its founding in 1896, the band has pursued a fully virtual format.

Despite these challenges, band members have been fostering friendships, learning new skills and staying safe.

After months of planning this summer, the band staff chose to adopt a module style of learning. Students enrolled in ENS 348 just like normal times, but instead of practicing at Elbel Field Monday through Friday from 4:45-6:15 p.m., the band members are learning completely asynchronously. The two-week modules are themed so that the musicians are able to hone their skills and learn techniques they wouldn’t normally be able to.

“No one was expecting this to be a substitute for an in-person season, but I speak for many people when I say that we’ve gotten things out of it that we couldn’t normally get from a busy band schedule,” said LSA junior Kaitlyn Colyer, the leader of the piccolo section.

LSA junior Shelby Ostrewich, an alto saxophone player, said she likes how module-style learning has allowed the band to learn different skills.

“My favorite so far has been the flag for non-flags since it gave me an excuse to be more active and get off my laptop,” Ostrewich said. “It helped me have a whole new appreciation for our color guard.”

During traditional years, the band’s rehearsal schedule is planned down to the minute. This year, the pandemic made that impossible, Band Director John Pasquale said.

“It’s completely different in every possible way,” Pasquale said. “Quite literally 100% of (the program) had to be examined, and then changed.”

The staff has worked to keep the performers engaged.

“We obviously care about their safety first and foremost, that is paramount,” Pasquale said. “Then, their experience is a very close second.”

Not only have the modules given the students an opportunity to see behind the scenes, they have also helped integrate freshmen with their fellow band members through collaboration, according to LSA freshman Alina Stinson, an alto saxophone player.

“The group work aspects of these classes have introduced me to so many different people,” Stinson said.

Of the nearly 400 performers who were accepted to be a part of the Michigan Marching Band this season, more than 250 students have enrolled in the optional virtual model while the others opted out. Anyone in the MMB this season will not have to reaudition next year.

Auditions for the subsequent academic year are held during the summer each year. Pasquale said he was “floored” by the number of students who chose to audition despite uncertainty about what the upcoming season would look like.

“All things considered, it was a very positive audition cycle,” Pasquale said.

The MMB plans to release two completely virtual shows this semester. The first one, scheduled for early November, is titled “Hail to the Everyday Heroes” and will be a tribute to the frontline workers in the pandemic.

“The resiliency of the students I am so proud of and inspired by every day, by the spirit of the Michigan family and community that is seen by the students and faculty, staff, alumni and supporters,” Pasquale said. “How people are coming together — it’s only a testament to the strength of the Michigan community.”

The second show that will be released around the Michigan vs. Ohio State game in December and will be completely designed, arranged and written by students.

In an ordinary season, the section student leaders are charged with teaching first and cultivating community second. This year, community comes first given that organic connections are difficult to foster virtually. From section “Among Us” games over Zoom to remote watch parties for game days and virtual quiet study sessions, the band members are trying to stay connected in any way possible.

Stinson, who opted to live at home in Michigan with her family this semester, said that she has made many close friends — freshmen and upperclassmen alike — through events organized by the alto section.

“I’ve been amazed by the sense of community within the band, even in a virtual form,” Stinson said. “I feel just as included as if I were on campus.”

However, building a sense of community in the absence of in-person practices is without a doubt challenging. LSA junior Will Padbury said it’s helped immensely that he lives with fellow members of his section.

“We experience virtual band together, reminisce about previous seasons, and help each other stay focused and optimistic for next year,” Padbury said.

Colyer said section leaders have always been responsible for welcoming new members. However, the nuanced challenges this semester have made it important to ensure new members know they have a friend without being overbearing.

“We’ve also had to strike a balance between letting people know we’re here and we’re actively interested in their participation in the band, but also respecting that people are overwhelmed with the amount of time they’re spending online,” Colyer said.

Daily News Contributor Brooke Van Horne can be reached at brookevh@umich.edu. 

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