Bulldog Marching Band marches back onto campus

Fresno State's Bulldog Marching Band returns to campus for practice after a two year hiatus. (Kameron Thorn/The Collegian)

The Best in the West can’t be hushed for long. The Bulldog Marching Band (BMB) is back after a two year hiatus following the pandemic. 

“The first time we played it was so surreal,” Joshua Bell, president of the band council, said. “You have a conductor in front of you and a director telling you, ‘I need you to play a little bit louder,’ and I missed that feeling. It was very nostalgic playing in person again.”

Marching Band was one of the few classes to be completely canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, with no fans in the stands at Fresno State football games, that meant no marching band.

“Much of the band is my source of community,” Lauren Webb, who plays the mellophone in the marching band, said. “To have that large community and have it be taken away during that time is very difficult, especially when you’re a music student, and there are certain things that you go to, and are used to doing.”

Kaitlyn Jones, who has been a member of the BMB for three years, points out that the cancellation was very sudden.

“It was weird because we expected to come back,” she said. “A lot of programs were told, ‘you guys won’t come back,’ but we had planned to.”

The Sierra Classic Cup, the high school marching band competition hosted by the BMB, was also cancelled last year. 

Although this is one of the band’s largest fundraisers, revenue was not lost as the band did not incur any expenses that year.

Even though the news may have been disappointing and difficult, students were understanding of the situation.

“If I’m being honwest, I thought it was better that way,” Aurora Flores, a piccolo player in the BMB, said. “Since we are a really big group I don’t think it would have been a good idea for the whole band to be together during that time.”

The 253 member band has been working diligently to follow COVID-19 precautions. Both the musicians and the instruments mask up while indoors, albeit only the brass instruments have to wear bell covers. 

For some members, auditions were held virtually. Julie Richards, a member of the color guard, auditioned virtually this year and last.

“It felt very weird not having a traditional audition,” she said. “We sent in our own videos, but we didn’t meet anybody until we came to campus, so we definitely missed out on a lot of bonding.” 

The pandemic posed several other unique challenges to students. For some, it was the shoulder pain from marching with a 40-pound sousaphone after not having done so in over a year. For others, it was the mental stress.

“Not having marched for a year, there was some hesitation [returning],” Gracie De La Cerda, BMB clarinetist, said. “I was a bit scared that I wasn’t going to remember everything, but it worked out because everything was taught very well and very thoroughly.” 

De La Cerda is one of the many new members to the BMB. The majority of the 2021 BMB are new to the band because of the gap year caused by COVID-19. 

This large incoming class meant fewer mentors and more new learners. Despite this challenge, the band was able to march on. 

“From the very beginning of band camp, everyone has been giving full focus and effort to learning our marching technique and performance style,” Michael Gil, head drum major, said. “Some of our members came in without field show experience, but we have a lot of experienced members in each section who have done a great job of showing them the ropes.”

Although the marching band was canceled last year, many of the band’s members still had music classes and had to meet and perform virtually. 

Virtual learning comes with a large set of obstacles, but it can be especially challenging when the subject is music. Computers lag and microphones distort. However, there are sometimes silver linings.

“Normally we’re in the concert, so we can’t really hear ourselves as the audience would hear us. But with the virtual experience it’s like we’re sitting in the crowd watching ourselves,” Bell said. “As a musician, it’s nice to be able to listen to the ensemble in that way.”

Steve McKeithen, Associate Professor of Music and Director of the Bulldog Marching Band, points out that there is also an upside that many of us can relate to.

“I think that maybe now we can appreciate what we do more, and we can better appreciate the time that we get to do what we are doing.”

Visit the Fresno State Concert Hall on Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. to listen to the joint performance featuring the Fresno State Wind Orchestra and the Fresno State Brass and Percussion Ensemble. Admission is $5 for students, $12 for seniors and Fresno State employees, and $15 for others.

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