Manchester University
Oak Leaves

October 2, 2020

liquid nitrogen

Spartan Pride Marching band makes its MU performance debut during a recording for Homecoming week with a collection of rock classics.

Photo provided by MU

New Marching Band Provides Familiarity amidst Uncertainty

Mitchell Marks 

They may be small in number, but the 30 members of the Spartan Pride Marching Band make up for any lack of size with a shared passion for music.

As the new marching band took the field at Spartan Stadium for the first time in a sneak-peek concert Saturday, Sept. 19, one thing was clear: despite facing adversity from the COVID-19 pandemic, Manchester has succeeded in revitalizing a dormant program.

A donor who provided funds to cover the band’s startup costs allowed the Spartan Pride to debut this fall after Manchester had gone over 50 years without a marching band, according to Dr. Scott Humphries, band director. As the latest addition to a Manchester music program that already included a symphonic band, jazz ensemble, percussion ensemble and basketball pep band, the Spartan Pride is designed to increase school spirit and bring, as Humphries puts it, “another worthwhile activity to campus.” Humphries is properly equipped to conduct the band after spending two years as a graduate assistant with the Marching Virginians at Virginia Tech and serving as a high school band director for nearly two decades.

The Sept. 19 showcase provided a glimpse at the band’s inaugural “Let it Rock” routine that includes music from classic groups like Santana and Kiss. According to Humphries, the hour-long concert allowed the band to perform its set 10 times while recording a video for Homecoming week. Humphries said the event was open to visitors and estimated there were close to 200 attendees.

Due to the postponement of Manchester’s 2020 football season, the Spartan Pride will not see much action this fall. However, Humphries is utilizing local high schools to ensure the band’s first year is not wasted. Prior to the Spartan Pride’s home debut, the band performed a halftime show Sept. 11 at Northfield High School in its first showing ever. The group will also play at Manchester High School Oct. 2 and Whitko High School Oct. 9 in preparation for Manchester University’s only home football game this fall, an Oct. 17 bout against Adrian College.

Humphries has been pleased with the band’s performance thus far, explaining the reception was positive at both the Northfield game and the sneak-peek concert. For him, the encouraging reaction represents the result of a process that was anything but easy. “Trying to start a marching band is hard enough, but trying to start it during COVID is just ridiculous,” he said.

Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic introduced many challenges to the creation and implementation of the startup band, according to Humphries. At the summer marching band camp held the week before classes started, for example, members had to endure five days of 11-hour practices while wearing face masks in the blazing heat—all while standing at least six feet away from each other to satisfy social distancing protocols. “I definitely did not enjoy the heat during band camp,” said senior sousaphone player Sage Correll. “You’d be surprised how awful wearing a mask is while playing an instrument in that weather. It’s incredibly restricting and makes it five times hotter.”

Manchester’s decision to stagger class schedules presented another initial obstacle to the marching band’s success. Humphries explained the band’s original 4 p.m. rehearsal time on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays was rescheduled to accommodate students’ new class schedules. The only available time to practice, though, proved to be early in the morning. “We have to rehearse now at 7 a.m.,” Humphries said, laughing. “It’s rough.”

Senior euphonium player Jonah Lechlitner believes the early practice time is a necessary evil. “I am commuting this year and live about 20 minutes from campus, so I need to wake up at 5:30 to get there on time. It’s great. Just great,” Lechlitner said in a joking tone. However, he continued to explain that despite the inconvenience, the practice time allows him to participate in an activity he enjoys. “I love to be there with everybody and make music,” he said. “Music is what I’m passionate about.”

In addition to the rearranged rehearsal times, the Spartan Pride has also worked to adhere to safe startup procedures defined by a University of Colorado study that released this summer, according to Humphries. All band members must maintain six feet of social distance except for trombone players, who are not allowed within nine feet of each other. Elastic bell covers have been administered to the horns of instruments to block aerosol droplets, and band members are required to wear face masks with mouth slits cut out. “Playing with a mask on is pretty annoying, but if it means we can keep marching I’ll live with it,” Lechlitner said. “There’s good there; it just makes things more difficult and different.”

The safe startup procedures will trickle into the Spartan Pride’s game appearances, according to Humphries. The director is still unsure whether his band will be able to play in the stands during Manchester’s Oct. 17 football game or if they will be relegated to a halftime-only performance. Correll hopes the band can find a way to be completely involved in the game atmosphere. “I want us to be used at full capacity,” she said. No matter how the band is utilized, Humphries and Correll agree the Spartan Pride will bring a new aspect to the Manchester football experience that will attract more spectators to games.

Despite these challenges, Humphries is proud of the band he has assembled and commends his students’ resilience in the face of adversity. “It’s been a tough year to start the band, but we’re doing great,” he said. “I’m really proud of the work ethic and the progress that we’ve made . . . I couldn’t ask for a better bunch.”

Correll and Lechlitner are both pleasantly surprised by how well the band has been implemented in its first year. “I am impressed with how well it’s going,” Lechlitner said. “We have a quality program and it’s nice to see recognition. Our numbers are small, but we are passionate and I’m proud of the show we are putting out there.” Humphries hopes the program will continue to grow in coming years and expects more students to join the Spartan Pride once COVID restrictions subside.

For Lechlitner, the willingness to participate during a global pandemic comes from his excitement to be in a marching band again. “I didn’t think I’d ever be marching again after high school,” he said. “To have this opportunity again is fantastic!”

Correll shared Lechlitner’s enthusiasm after going three years without marching. “I missed playing my sousaphone,” Correll said. “It’s very nostalgic.” She continued to explain that marching band provides a feeling of familiarity and enhances comradery with fellow band members. The psychology major also believes the Spartan Pride will get more members to join the music program and help attract prospective students to Manchester. “A lot of high school band players don’t want to go to a school without a marching band,” she said.

While first-year clarinet player Danielle Carlson did not choose to attend Manchester solely because of the Spartan Pride, she supported Correll’s belief that the marching band is an enticing addition for high school students and explained she was excited to learn about the creation of the program. “I knew I wanted to join when I heard we would have a marching band,” Carlson said. In her short time with the Manchester music program, Carlson has already grasped how important the Spartan Pride is for students. “The marching band definitely brings a sense of belonging and community to a lot of the members,” she said.

Lechlitner agreed that the Spartan Pride has benefited marching band members and the entire Manchester community. “It’s great seeing so much investment in the music program,” she said. “The experience for students is great. We provide our passion and musical excellence and the pride we have in our university.”

According to Correll, that passion will be evident to anyone who watches the marching band perform. Additionally, she believes the Spartan Pride will make Manchester more exciting and elevate the campus atmosphere to a level on par with larger universities. “You look at other college towns, big colleges like Purdue and IU, and marching band’s a big part of their college and community,” Correll said. “I think the Spartan Pride will solidify our community and encourage participation. It really was a huge addition to the Manchester music program.”