COVID-19 causes changes to Panther Marching Band


As the 2020-2021 school year progresses, students are still adjusting to the changes made because of COVID-19. No class or activity has been untouched, yet precautions have been taken so students can come back to campus and engage in their activities and teams. UNI’s Panther Marching Band has had to undergo a series of changes in order for students to practice safely. Panther Marching Band Director Justin Mertz spent the summer brainstorming with his colleagues on how to have a safe and active marching band while following Coronavirus guidelines.

“Marching band is a musical and educational activity that students are credited for, and performance is a part of it,” said Mertz. “We thought we could create other performance opportunities that would still allow students to have a musical and education opportunity that being in a marching band provides. That was the most important reason for us to continue. A marching band’s job is essentially to make its host campus a better place to be, to raise the spirits of people on campus and be musical ambassadors for that campus. We thought that we could still do that even if it wasn’t at half time at a football game.”

In order to maintain proper social distance, the band’s 285 members spread out with six feet between them, and in some cases nine feet due to certain instruments that play. Practices are still held in the UNIDome, and the performers stand still instead of march. The band is planning to have at least three outdoor performances, but the times and dates are still being determined. The first performance is estimated to be on Friday, Sept. 25 here on campus.

“As it turns out, we need to be masking not just people, but instruments too,” Mertz explained. “We mask every student in the band at all times, social distancing depending on the instruments. We have masks with holes in them so students can play their instruments, so they’re actually playing with a mask on. Every instrument has been fitted with a mask. Some instruments are in bags with holes students can put their hands in. And the time we rehearse in a particular space is no more than 30 minutes.”

It’s been a huge change of pace for the PMB members. Senior elementary education major Kyle Peter, who plays the alto saxophone, explained how COVID-19 has changed his marching band experience.

 “Covid has impacted my role in the PMB quite a bit,” said Peter. “I am a field coordinator which means Kat Rech and I write all of the non marching movements for the band. Since we aren’t able to march, Kat and I really have our work cut out for us because the only thing we are doing is movements that we write. It is an awesome challenge to take on!”

Junior instrumental music education major Kelley Meinen expressed her sadness over the missed bonding opportunities with her fellow marching band members.

“Staying 6 feet apart is hard,” said Meinen. “Humans are social creatures, so it’s just not natural, but it is necessary. It’s hard to communicate when we need to stay spaced out, too. We have short sectionals outside during rehearsal, and I bought a megaphone for myself and the other music section leader because there are 50 trumpets. The first time we had a sectional, I didn’t have those, and it was hard for people to hear me. I also lost my voice from screaming for so long. If it was a normal season, we would be inside and not all spread out. Although it’s all very different and a little difficult, I am so happy to be making music with others. I hadn’t played music with others in over 5 months. Music is something that I need. I don’t feel whole without it, and being away from school, unable to make music with others really made me feel empty. I am glad that the PMB is doing so many things to keep everyone safe so we can keep making music together as long as possible.”

As well as the marching band, the color guard has had to make sure they are taking the right precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Color guard leadership member Bailey Fah explained the changes the color guard has had to undergo during these times.

“The mask is definitely something to get used to,” Fah said. “We do a lot of physical activity, so it can be hard having to wear a mask all the time, but I think we’re adjusting well. I think the hardest thing that I personally have to deal with is mental things. Coming to terms that we will not be able to do certain things that we had scheduled and planned this year, especially Bands of America and playing at football games, which I was really excited about.”

While there may be many missed opportunities and a very different atmosphere, the Panther Marching Band has not let any of this dull their spirits. Although they face many difficulties, the PMB is determined to spread music throughout campus and bring back some school spirit to those in need of a little cheering up.