Gonzaga University’s favorite hype band has had to pause their activities and practices for the year in light of COVID-19.
The Bulldog Band has always been a fan favorite at basketball games. The band is an organization consisting of GU students that get together to perform for the fans at men’s and women’s basketball games and pep rallies.
The specific phrase to describe the band is “50% pep and 50% band”. They meet to rehearse twice at the beginning of the year and the rest of the time the band is fun and games, literally.
Sara Whelchel, Bulldog Band’s student conductor, has been a member of the band since her freshman year.
“We just try to provide as much hype as physically possible for our sports teams as well as our crowd,” Whelchel said.
The band is unique in how it is set up. Anyone who can play an instrument already can join, but you do not have to know how to play to join the band. Students who can read music can elect to join a one-credit class to learn an instrument before joining the band, and then members show up to perform at games as they please. The band averages 100 students per game, with some games as little as 30 students to as big as 130 performing.
Whelchel’s favorite part of Bulldog Band is getting to know other members of the band.
“It’s especially exciting because we’re such a large group that every single game has a slightly different group of people”, Whelchel said.
In a normal year, the size of the band is exciting and provides many opportunities to meet new people. But with COVID-19, playing as a band has been impossible. With a group as big as theirs, there are no practice spaces that can accommodate them. Because of this, the band has not been able to play since before the COVID-19 shutdown last spring.
Director David Fague has a plan for return, but the timeline for when they can start is impossible to predict.
His plan includes drum line, electric bass, electric guitar, electric keyboard, a drum set and possibly even a vocalist. What will be trickier is the wind instruments, and anything that involves blowing into an instrument.
“I’m confident that we will be able to stay six feet apart, masked up and still be able to rock out and get some energy in the arena,” Fague said.
And they will have no problem with that. The Bulldog Band prides itself on the energy it provides for the team and the fans. They have created a fun, stress-free environment where musical students can show up for their team.
“We want to play tunes that everybody wants to hear,” Fague said. “We’re gonna get everybody fired up and get that energy going during basketball games.”
As Washington moved into phase two of the reopening plan last week, the excitement around returning to the Kennel grew.
With the environment the Bulldog Band has created, it's no surprise band members are itching to play as normal. Whelchel has unfortunately been unable to conduct without her band, and misses the silliness that comes from the games.
As conductor, Whelchel counts off the songs and uses her headset to keep up with how the media is reporting the game to ensure the songs are appropriate for the time. She also has to dance ridiculously as the band follows along.
Cora Kim, a junior mellophone player, loves the energy that comes through the dances.
“[The band] just gets someone up front to coordinate a dance when we play music, and everyone has to follow along,” Kim said. “It looks coordinated even though the dance moves are random.”
Fague has worked hard to create an environment where students both enjoy the games and play for the band. With a group as big as theirs that is so supportive of each other and the team they play for, there are many reasons why the band loves to play.
“I always had more fun at games as a part of the band than in the Kennel,” Kim said.
Fague believes that if anything, at least COVID-19 has put things into perspective. After having in-person spirit canceled, the return of basketball and the Bulldog Band will be more exciting than ever.
“Have faith that the band will be what it was," Fague said. "We’re going to get through this and come out on the other side.”