Credit: Kaitlyn Duong | Courtesy

Walking up to the group of masked students holding instruments, she said she was nervous and unsure. More than anything else, she said she was excited because of her love for marching band.

There were only 45 people at the first in-person practice — all wearing face masks, all standing the well-known six feet apart from each other. 

“At first, it was like ‘Oh, can we even stand near each other when we talk?’” business administration freshman Megan Miyamoto said. “But you never really know what to expect from your first band practice.”

This is Miyamoto’s first year playing with Cal Poly’s Mustang Band. 

Miyamoto practiced for about a month before she finally submitted her audition tape to play baritone horn. 

“I was nervous because I don’t think my strong suit is playing,” Miyamoto said. “I think I’m better at marching and ‘vis.’”

“Vis” is short for visuals, which Miyamoto said are like “dance moves” for marching band. 

Miyamoto is one of a record number of recruits to the 200-member Mustang Band — including brass, woodwind, percussion and color guard performers — practicing at a social distance this year. The opportunity to play together looks a little different with smaller groups, three different locations and weekly practice times split in half. 

Despite the distancing protocols, graphic communications junior Hannah Krieg said the community aspect of the band is still intact. 

“Getting to march and play with, whether it be friends I’ve had for years or new freshman, I think it’s still a fun season and it’s still something special to be a part of,” Krieg said. 

Director of Bands Christopher Woodruff said he credits the Mustang Band’s record in recruiting this year to the student leadership team and the energy of Associate Director of Bands and the Mustang Band Director, Nicholas Waldron.

In place of what would usually be Band Camp, new members got to experience a “Band Week of Welcome” versus the typical new student WOW experience. 

“We got all band leaders which has been nice,” Miyamoto said. “Band people are different. Sometimes it’s in a weird way, but it’s just a lot of fun all the time. So I’m just excited to be around that.” 

Even with so many new members, the band has not had a single positive case of COVID-19 reported this year.

“It’s really cool how passionate everyone is about keeping each other safe and maintaining that safety so that we can keep playing together,” materials engineering senior Madi Glozer said.

Glozer and political science junior Katherine Hanson are the masterminds behind the overall functioning of the band. As the chief executive officer and the assistant executive officer, Glozer and Hanson said they “tried to plan for every possible scenario” leading up to Fall 2020. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic started affecting student clubs and organizations in Spring 2020, the band was in the middle of performing for basketball season. The first thing on Glozer’s mind was the planning of the annual band banquet.

“I thought, ‘wait, what does this mean for that? Is that gone?” Glozer said.  

After the initial shock, Glozer and Hanson worked to create a Canvas site for their incoming leadership team and restructure the responsibilities between themselves and the drum majors. From there, they had to play it by ear.

“It was definitely a waiting game for a good part of the summer,” Hanson said. 

The fate of Mustang Band was uncertain until about two weeks before the start of the school year, when Cal Poly informed Glozer and Hanson that they could practice in person. 

The only catch: health and safety precautions. 

The maximum amount of members allowed to practice in an open space is 45. With four times that amount in the band, Glozer and Hanson were tasked to figure out how to split everyone up.

“We had to jigsaw everything together in terms of who can go to which [practice], how do we balance instrumentation,” Glozer said. “A lot of people live with each other so we had to try to keep roommates together to minimize risk as well.” 

Glozer said they try to make as even of an instrumentation as they can in their groups, since they can’t all hear each other playing together right now. Since the drum line practices separately, the other groups practice pieces that are not heavily dependent on drum line.

“It makes it even more important for all of us to pay attention to tempo,” Glozer said. 

Glozer, Hanson and the drum majors all get tested for COVID-19 every week, since they interact with the different practice groups and are exposed to the most members. Other band members are required to get tested at least twice throughout the quarter. 

“We’re all conscious that this is a privilege to be able to do something in person,” Miyamoto said. “So we need to make sure that we’re not doing anything to take away this opportunity.”

As much of a privilege it is to play music in person, it’s even more of a privilege to just be together, Hanson said. 

“I feel like right now community is something that’s very hard for people to find in terms of being isolated because of the pandemic, or even politically, everything is very divided,” Hanson said. “It’s nice to have a constant, and I think band is that constant for a lot of us.

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