Men’s and women’s basketball have been fueled by the Bulldog Band for many years, as they charge the fans with clamorous cheering and familiar, brassy songs. But just like many activities and events this semester that thrive in large groups, Bulldog Band must adapt and be creative in this COVID-19 world.
Typically, a normal Bulldog Band semester begins with an informational meeting for new members, who will then join the rest of the band in October. After two rehearsals, games begin and everyone starts playing.
Zoom meetings replace in-person meetings this semester. Sign-up information for new members is in an announcement on Morning Mail, flyers and an informational video.
“I just want everybody on campus to know how to join,” said David Fague, the director of Bulldog Band. “Whether they want to be in it, that's up to them.”
While waiting to know for certain what the NCAA guidelines for basketball are, Fague has begun to brainstorm possible ways the band can still hype up the players.
“Band is super tough because you have to be able to hear each other,” said senior trumpet player Ellen Rowan. “So, you have to be close to each other. And then you also have to push your respiratory secretions through an instrument.”
Several of the other music ensembles on campus are using special masks for wind instruments, which cover the end of the instrument and only slightly impede sound.
“If they are playing, they will end up needing to wear a mask with a split for the mouthpiece,” Fague said, “which is how the jazz band and wind ensemble are rehearsing currently, as well as a special fabric bell cover that goes over the front of the bell, [which is] the part that goes out.”
What is more likely is that the drum line will expand, as they can easily wear masks without impeding their sound and still keep up the spirit.
“Maybe we'll just have a really big drum line this year,” said junior Britton Erikson, the president of the Bulldog Band and trumpet player. “They're already spaced out pretty well as is, so it wouldn't be too much of a change for them. The [rest of the] band is shoved up into that corner, but the drum line needs room for their equipment. So we're trying really hard to be optimistic, but we also want to be realistic.”
Fague said another option in addition to the drum line is creating more of a rock band, with an electric bass, electric guitar, electric keyboard and possibly a vocalist and instrumentalist.
“We’re 50% music and 50% pep,” Fague said. “We're there to cheer and go crazy and get the crowd going, so we'll take care of that other 50% no problem, whatever we got to do, but the music 50% is the part that's going to be a challenge. Whatever happens, we're going to be there to do whatever we can to make the team win.”
Until the NCAA announces for certain what basketball will look like, the band will not rehearse together. Fague said he respects the students’ time too much to possibly rehearse for nothing.
Members are confident that the tight community Bulldog Band fosters with intense games and traveling will still thrive, although apart.
“It's not about the instrument anymore,” senior piccolo player Dagny Albano said. “It really never was. It's about the fun and the friendships and just being as loud as possible. So I'm totally fine with that. I'm really excited for whatever happens.”
Albano said that Bulldog Band means the world to her. Erikson said Bulldog Band members strongly bond throughout the duration of the season.
“[Bulldog Band] is like watching a movie by yourself versus watching a movie with your friends,” Erikson said. “It depends not so much on what movie you're watching, but who you're watching it with.”
In addition to playing at games on campus, the band travels for two to four weeks in the spring together. Many students see each other in other instrumental classes or ensembles outside Bulldog Band.
Fague also reminisces about the excitement of the first rehearsal every year and preparing to play in high emotional situations, as the band becomes super fans of GU basketball and a family.
“When I look out there at that first rehearsal, I just get chills every single year,” Fague said. “I'm just like, ‘Oh man, it is so good to see you,’ and they're so excited to be there. And so it's a real positive experience and it's the most fun any of them will ever have playing their instrument.”
Bulldog Band students especially miss the now-graduated seniors who played their final game last March without realizing. Rowan said he mourns the experiences new members will miss this semester with basketball games.
“But I know pep band’s in good hands [with] our sophomores and juniors who are awesome and Mr. Fague,” Rowan said. “He'll try to make noise in that building no matter what, so I think it'll be okay. Everything is just going to be a little strange for 2020.”
While safety is the primary concern, Fague and other members are more hopeful basketball and Bulldog Band can more fully return next semester. First-years and anyone else interested in joining the band can currently do so, and Fague, Erikson, Albano and Rowan encourage anyone to apply.
“I just know people are going to be missing it,” Fague said. “They're going to be so ready at the drop of a hat. If I sent out a text and said, ‘Guys, we're playing,’ my phone would blow up, everybody's phone would blow up. We would probably get 100 more members in that week.”