When the “Pride of Mid-America” — Ball State University’s famed marching band — takes to the practice fields in the coming weeks, its members will be taking special precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Special face masks that are on the way from a manufacturer and bell covers made by a local seamstress will allow members of the 200-member unit to play their instruments while reducing the potential spread of particles that can carry the novel coronavirus.
Initial results from a University of Colorado study, released online in mid-July, showed that band instruments can produce aerosols in the range of sizes that can carry the COVID-19 virus. However, specially designed masks have a slit that closes around the instrument through use of magnets, which allow the musician to play while cutting down on aerosols.
In addition, the band will often be broken up into smaller units of 50 musicians for outdoor practices, allowing members to safely practice physical distancing. During the outdoor sessions, staff will also wear masks and utilize portable voice projection to avoid yelling, which projects aerosols.
“It’s a very fluid situation, but we have an extremely dedicated group of staff and students working to make sure that safety is our highest priority,” said Associate Director of Bands Caroline Hand, who conducts the “Pride of Mid-America” Marching Band. She calls it “the most challenging band camp prep in my six years at Ball State as we adapt to the challenges of performing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The “Pride of Mid-America” Marching Band is considered an integral and exciting part of Ball State tradition and spirit. Utilizing a versatile marching style, the band performs traditional drill as well as the latest in contemporary show design. In addition to home football games and occasional away games, the band has performed at bowl and NFL games, as well as performances in Indiana and regionally.
The band will not be participating in Ball State’s home football games this season with the Mid-American Conference postponing the season until Spring semester, 2021.
To launch its season, the band will participate in a virtual band camp August 16-17, with its first organized live practice scheduled on August 19.
When the band does come together as unit to practice, the shows will be obviously different than in the past.
The performances are written at a four-step interval this year, said Hand, creating about 7.5 feet distance between band members. While the drumline cannot always be at this distance, all will be wearing masks.
“Fans in the stands will notice the differences because of the members staying six feet apart,” she said. “We will still be highly creative, but we probably won’t be able to spell out words and create recognizable images. But we’ll making it interesting with special and moving formations.”
Hand also said the band is looking into ways to take its shows online, including creating virtual shows on YouTube and distributing performances on other social media channels.