Spartan Pride drums up spirit

Humphries overcomes pandemic obstacles to field Manchester’s first band in more than 50 years

When Board of Trustees Chair John Zeglis and his wife, Carol, offered startup support for a marching band at Manchester University, Music Department faculty were skeptical.

“At first, I was hesitant,” said Assistant Professor Scott Humphries. Manchester’s undergraduate campus is small and Humphries, director of instrumental studies, knew of only 35 or 40 instrumentalists on campus.

full-marching-band“But the longer we talked about it, the more excited I became about the possibility,” says Humphries. “I changed my tune.” With that, Spartan Pride – Manchester’s first marching band since the early 1960s – was born.

There was only one hitch. Well, maybe more than one, but when Humphries agreed to form the band and direct it, he hadn’t planned on the COVID-19 pandemic. He recruited a core of Symphonic Band instrumentalists already at Manchester, but drawing new students to play in the band was an altogether different challenge.

bass-drum“Recruiting with COVID was next to impossible,” says Humphries who, before Indiana’s stay-at-home order, had planned to recruit in person at regional high schools. As a work-around, the Admissions Office provided Humphries with a list of first-year applicants who expressed an interest in music. He texted each one of those students with the question, “Would you like to be part of our brand-new marching band?”

Ten of those first-year students said “yes” and, along with 20 returning students, Humphries’ fielded his first band with 30 musicians.

One of those 30 is Jonah Lechlitner, a senior music education major from Warsaw, Ind. “I could not pass up the opportunity,” says Jonah, who also has played with the Symphonic Band, Jazz Ensemble and Manchester Symphony Orchestra. “Music is my passion and getting out on the field and working hard is something that nothing but marching band could replicate.”

Uniform-manchester-on-sleeveDrum Major Kayla Carver, a senior music education major from Fort Wayne, has played with the Symphonic Band, Jazz Band, Pep Band and Manchester Symphony Orchestra while at Manchester. She’s also been in A Cappella Choir and Chamber Singers. Like Jonah, she finds community in marching band. “When I heard that Manchester was going to have a marching band, I wanted nothing more than to be a part of it,” says Kayla. “For me, the experience has been a blessing.”

Even with enthusiasm like Jonah’s and Kayla’s, Humphries had his hands full starting a band during a pandemic. To learn how to do it safely, he used a University of Colorado study, which examined instruments’ release of aerosols and how coverings over the instruments’ bells can reduce aerosol spread without deadening the sound.

“This whole cottage industry has arisen to make bell covers for the instruments,” says Humphries, whose musicians also wear face masks with a slit cut in them at the mouth and stay 6 feet apart, except for trombonists, who require 9 feet.

piccolo-There were other challenges. Musicians who play flutes and piccolos can’t use face masks because of their instruments’ positioning. They can play with face shields indoors, but not in outdoor performances with the band’s hats. So Humphries devised another work-around with something he saw online – cutting the corner of the face shield into which a flute or piccolo can be inserted. “It’s funny the lengths we have to go” to keep everyone safe, says Humphries.

Manchester has an able and experienced band director in Humphries. He earned his Bachelor of Music Education from James Madison University and, while earning his master’s degree at Virginia Tech, served as the graduate assistant of that 350-member band. He went on to earn his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in music education from Boston University.

band-flagHumphries taught middle and high school bands in Virginia before joining MU’s faculty in 2008. In addition to teaching saxophone, he directs the Music Education Program and the University’s other bands. He stepped down as conductor of the Manchester Symphony Orchestra to focus on starting Spartan Pride.

“Starting from scratch is scary because there are so many unknowns,” says Humphries, who chose classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes for this year’s show because of their flexible music charts.

If only the band’s schedule were as flexible. Undergraduate class times were staggered widely this fall to allow for disinfecting classrooms between classes and to reduce the number of people in hallways at a given time. The stretched-out class days left only a 7 a.m. start time for band practice – what Humphries good-naturedly calls a “brutal” way to start the day.

 “It’s certainly one for the record books,” says Humphries. “Who starts a marching band during a pandemic? Who’s crazy enough to do that?”

By Melinda Lantz ’81