Screaming Eagles Marching Band maintains high spirits during fall season

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Screaming Eagles Marching Band. Image retrieved from Tammy Fisher

Alison Obright, Arts and Entertainment Reporter

The decision to cancel fall football in 2020 had rippling effects for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Screaming Eagles Marching Band (SEMB). In addition to adapting to COVID-19 safety guidelines, the group also faced a semester without the halftime show stage.

During a typical fall, SEMB is responsible for setting the tone within Roger Harring Stadium at Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex before, during, and after football games including performances during tailgates and halftime.

In an interview with The Racquet Press, SEMB Director Tammy Fisher said the group is focused on safety and maintaining musical community this fall.

The year started with the 165-member group being broken into several smaller groups of 50 or fewer people. Each member received a mask and hand sanitizer, which was applied before and after playing instruments during rehearsal. Physical distancing has been fairly easy for the band, said Fisher, because members are usually at least six feet away from one another on large outdoor fields.

The flexibility of students has made the year possible, said Fisher.

“All the success that we have had is certainly a tribute to the students and their spirit and their determination,” she said. She also said that the observance of safety protocols has been uniform across the band thanks to the strength of the student leadership team, “The students really set the tone, and they just want this to work so bad. They want to get back together and have that social and musical network that they’ve been craving for months.”

Since the shelter in place order called for online learning, SEMB has continued virtual rehearsals through online meeting software like Zoom. The way that students are practicing in the online environment is different, said Fisher.

“Students can’t play their instruments in the dorms or their apartments, so we’ve been listening to recordings and they’re basically going through the motions watching their music and kind of air playing along,” said Fisher.

The group has also spent time watching video highlights from the 2019 season.

Fisher said the highlights may help returning students remember their goals and successes while also comforting new students whose high school music experiences were cut short by school closures. “I was just really hoping that by being in marching band and everything, that I could somehow fill a little bit of the void of what they lost from last spring,” said Fisher.

Junior flute section leader Danielle Hoffman also said she empathized with freshman band members. “You know they’re coming to college and it’s a completely new and scary place. Band is supposed to be the place that you come in and, you know, maybe everything else is still unfamiliar and scary but you know that you kind of have a group, you’ve got a place here,” she said. “I think they got a bit of a sense of that, but I don’t know if they got the full sense of that this year.”

During the few in-person rehearsals the band had before the shelter in place order, Hoffman said the flute section was able to make progress on marching fundamentals. “Like, wow, they’re fantastic marchers, seriously they were so good – they made all us section leaders so proud,” said Hoffman. “Seeing that when we had a little bit of band camp time, that made us feel really good.”

Happy moments like these Hoffman said is the reason she does band. “One of my favorite parts is just, the energy and excitement that we all put into it and get out of it,” she said. “I’m a high-energy person myself so, I love it. I’m so into it. I’m so passionate about it, so I love being surrounded by a bunch of other people who are also getting really into it.”

Screaming Eagles Marching Band. Image retrieved from Tammy Fisher.

Senior drum major, Hannah Prellwitz, said the positive energy is part of the reason the semester has been possible. “I really appreciate the energy that everybody brought, despite what all is going on,” said Prellwitz. “We haven’t had any super negative attitudes about anything that’s going on. That would have made this such a bummer.”

Prellwitz also said that the maintenance of group energy has been a result of group problem-solving skills, especially while setting the tone at the start of the year. The group had to find a way to perform a high-energy pregame performance for new members, giving them a taste of the group’s dynamic, outside of the typical indoor setting. Accomplishing that performance was particularly special because it is one of her favorite memories from her first year with the band, she said.

Still, even as the group has problem solved, some challenges have been hard to navigate, and aspects of the season have been lost. Prellwitz said she misses drill, the movements typically performed during the halftime show, which had to be cut to maintain safety this season. She also said this year’s drum majors missed out on certain training activities including learning from last year’s drum majors and attending an in-person camp during the summer.

Though the season has changed and many music performances have been canceled, SEMB is maintaining high spirits and working to preserve social bonds, said Fisher.

“I am still smiling because the students have just been so flexible, and I say they are good sports about this. Everybody shows up, I haven’t hardly had any attendance issues, everyone is still doing their part. I couldn’t ask for any more from the students, to just keep trying,” she said.

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