Leading in a Global Pandemic

A photo of Samantha Jennings.
Though challenges seemed daunting, the Temple University marching band forged ahead with innovations and unequivocal joy.

In March of 2020, I remember having countless conversations with members of the Temple University Diamond Marching Band saying, “I know this is hard now, but there is no way that things won’t be back to normal by football season. Just keep looking forward to band!”

Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong! When COVID-19 made its entrance in our lives, I don’t think anyone could really conceptualize for how long and by how much our lives would be impacted; but for so many marchers, we held on tight to just the IDEA of marching band in the fall. That idea, though, was beyond complicated to bring into fruition.

Meeting Protocols

For Temple University, being located in the city of Philadelphia was our first challenge. While the state of Pennsylvania had its own overall COVID-19 guidelines, the city had even greater restrictions. With frequently changing parameters from the city and from our university, we weren’t cleared to begin planning our marching season until about two weeks before the start of band camp. We were allowed to have only 50 participants together at a time. I remember thinking: “How the heck am I supposed to make band camp exciting for 200 people, cover everything, and have fun, but we aren’t allowed to play, have social gatherings, and can only have 50 people together at a time?”

The task seemed impossible.

We eventually created a rotating group schedule. For band camp, we split each section—with the exception of drumline and color guard—into an A group and a B group and evenly dispersed our leadership staff.

For ongoing rehearsals, we split the band into four small ensembles, each with full instrumentation as well as drumline and color guard. That way, we would be able to practice with all parts. About halfway through the season, we switched people around within the groups, allowing different members of the band to get to play together. By creating four small groups, we minimized the amount of drill that each ensemble learned, expediting the show learning process as best as we could under the circumstances.

Remaining Undeterred!

In the Temple University Diamond Marching Band, we learn a new show for each home game, and COVID-19 did not stop us! Throughout the season, we put together a modified pregame show, a show of band standards (songs we keep every year), a Britney Spears show, and our annual Senior Show when the senior class selects four songs from their past years in the band.

To complete each show, the amazing video committee—comprised of students within the band—recorded each group and then worked tirelessly to unite all four bands onto the screen together as one. Often the video team had very little turnaround time to send the completed shows to athletics. All of our shows were played in the stadium at halftime and streamed with the game online and then on our band’s YouTube channel. Since we never got the full band together on the field, the premiere of each show on game day proved extra special because we could see the whole band perform as one unit!

At one point, the city’s restrictions opened up a bit, so that we could consolidate our four bands into two. That was a huge moment for our band as more of us could play together on the field but also a little scary as COVID-19 cases were rising at the time. About 100 members of the band performed pep tunes in the stands at the Nov. 7 game and also played along to the muted video recording during halftime. Shortly after our only game-day appearance at Lincoln Financial Field, we found out the unfortunate news that the final two games would eliminate fan attendance and that our season would end prematurely.

While the abrupt shift upset many people, especially fellow members of the senior class, I don’t think any of us were truly surprised, especially since Temple University had started the season without fan attendance. I am always taken away by the kindness within our band, but in this heartbreaking moment for so many of us, the outpouring of love from one another was beautiful. It reminded me that, yes, we do band because we love performing and cheering on our teams, but we also come back every year because we are a family, and we love being on the field together.

Connecting Across the Country

In late October, I found out about the College Band Directors National Association Intercollegiate Marching Band (IMB) from my band director, Dr. Matthew Brunner. He had nominated me to perform as a drum major with the IMB, which would unite performers from colleges across the country in a virtual performance. One of my favorite parts of band has always been getting to travel and meet other ensembles, so the idea of connecting and performing virtually with so many marchers from all across the country seemed incredible!

After submitting my performance, I also became a member of the logistics staff, which helped verify all of the performers’ names to be listed in the end credits! Getting to work firsthand with the logistics staff and seeing all the names of performers and universities/colleges that were a part of this performance was an exciting and incredibly humbling experience!

Looking Back

Even though this season was not what we were expecting or what we we necessarily wanted, it was unforgettable. Many moments in this season were far from perfect and often made me wonder: “How are we still doing this? Are people even having fun? Am I doing enough for my band?”

But I would think back to what I kept saying in March: “Just keep looking forward to band.”

I remember when we played together for the first time in the first week of the semester. I saw my friends without masks on to prepare to play. When I stood on the podium and looked across the field, I saw smiles of unequivocal joy. This feeling is why we always come back to band. Being on the field together as a family brings incomparable happiness that no mask, no guideline, and not even a pandemic could take from us.

About the author

Samantha Jennings

Samantha Jennings from Allentown, Pennsylvania, is a fifth-year senior, double majoring in clarinet performance and music education at Temple University. Samantha has been a member of the university’s marching band since her freshman year. Originally a member of the clarinet section, she then served as a drum major for three years. She has also arranged music for the ensemble.

A photo of Killian Weston.

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