In its 100th season, The Pride of Mississippi Marching Band has faced unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. After missing the first football game of the season, the band has returned to entertain in a different way.
In August, Conference USA and other collegiate conferences announced that university bands would be prohibited from marching on the field during this football season. Other band traditions like the Eagle Walk were also affected when Gov. Tate Reeves announced a ban on tailgating and all pregame gatherings.
On top of the new guidelines, the band faced challenges on how to safely conduct practices during the pandemic.
“We started with our preseason rehearsals being done entirely virtual,” Dr. Colin McKenzie, the Director of The Pride of Mississippi, said. “Normally the marching band has about a ten-day long, in-person intensive set of preseason rehearsals and we did not do that in person this year. That was a challenge by itself trying to figure out how to deliver that content in a virtual way.”
After in-person classes resumed on campus, the band only had eight days to prepare for its first game on Sep. 19. While the usual period of rehearsals consists of 12- to 14-hours of practice each day, the band only had an hour and a half of rehearsals each day to prepare. Despite the challenges, McKenzie says he is proud of how the students have persevered.
“Given all of that, I’m really, really proud of the way that the students have handled it and responded to it,” McKenzie said.
Without being able to perform halftime shows or be on the field before games, the band decided to record videos of their performances and display them on the stadium’s video board. The band will show the same video before every game for the pregame performance,and then will produce a new video each week for halftime shows.
McKenzie says that each minute of videos takes the band around two and a half hours to produce. For the band’s first halftime show video on Sep. 26, McKenzie says the performance took over 17 hours to produce.
Despite all of the challenges, McKenzie says the band has tried to be optimistic.
“I think, rather than, kind of focus on the fact that it’s a bummer that some of these things are happening, what we’ve tried to do is embrace the positive things,” McKenzie said. “The fact that we’re able to do some of this stuff at all, the fact that we’re able to be together and making some music together at all, [that] there are groups that are not able to do that right now […] so we’re trying to embrace those positive things more than focus on the negatives.”
Senior music education major John Hopkins also reflected similar optimism on the unusual season.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t perform in the same way that we have, but I am very excited for what we’re doing this year,” Hopkins said. “We’re making some good changes and we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves. It’s been really exciting to be a part of it, and what’s really cool is that the leadership team has had more of a role this year than we’ve ever really had.”
Sophomore jazz studies and saxophone performance major Jeremiah Parker shared similar thoughts about leadership in the band. Parker is an assistant drum major this year, meaning he’s been privy to some of the changes thus far.
“I think one thing is we’re trying to be a lot more proactive this year, especially granted the current situation with COVID[,] and we’re trying to think more ahead,” Parker said. “This is only my second year here[,] but I feel like the leadership is a lot more hands on and engaged with section members this year.”
Instead of sitting in their usual section in the lower bowl, the band is also now spread apart through three sections in the upper portion of the stadium. Hopkins describes the experience and difference of playing in the new sections.
“It’s a lot windier up there,” Hopkins said. “That’s the only difference. The perks for it are we can see the whole field a lot better so we can really pay more attention to what’s going on in the game. It will get a lot windier up there, but other than that, it’s been pretty fine so far.”
Parker says he hopes things return to normal soon, but is excited about the band’s progression this year during COVID.
“I’m really looking forward to maybe things transitioning a little towards normal,” Parker said. “However, I’m really excited to see how they continue to progress because I was fairly worried that going into this, they were just going to go with the expectations and what was expected. [… We thought we] were going to have a dip in performance, but they’ve just come in and executed. I can’t wait to see them keep doing that and doing even better.”