Sac State marching band students adjust to coronavirus precautions, distance learning

‘I have to come out here and play trumpet at 8 a.m. in my car’


Sara Nevis

From left to right, Sac State marching band members Russell Bradley, Veloy Tofoya and Gabrielle Mirsky pose for photos at Sacramento State on Oct.9, 2020. Due to this semester being mostly virtual, marching band students have had to come up with their own practice routine. (Photo illustration)

Katerina Graziosi

With a third of the semester complete, Sacramento State students are adapting to the challenges of distance learning, but some classes like marching band are still navigating the uncertainties and precautions that have been generated by COVID-19.

Only 7% of all California State University classes have been approved to meet in-person this fall and with the heightened risk of transmission posed by playing instruments and performing in proximity, marching band is changing to fit a virtual format.

While campus remains open, many of the facilities that are normally used by students are closed or have reduced hours. From acquiring and storing instruments to practicing and rehearsing, band students like music education major Veloy Tafoya have had to improvise.

“I have brass class so I have to come out here and play trumpet at 8 a.m. in my car,” Tafoya said, adding that he lives in the Upper Eastside Lofts, which have a no-instrument policy, and that his roommate is not usually awake at that time anyway.

Story continues below photo.

Veloy Tafoya, junior music education major, demonstrates what he would do as a drum major in front of Capistrano Hall at Sacramento State Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. This is Tafoya’s first year as a drum major at Sac State. (Sara Nevis)

Like Tafoya, music major Russell Bradley said he also uses his car to practice his euphonium as the reduced hours of Sac State’s music building, Capistrano Hall, do not allow him to practice there during his availability.

“I’ve been driving my station wagon behind that [Sutter] Hall since it’s completely empty,” Bradley said. “I sit in my trunk with my sheet music in front of me on a stand [to practice].”

Story continues below photo.

Russell Bradley, freshman music education major, plays his euphonium at Sacramento State Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. Bradley wants to be a high school music teacher. (Sara Nevis)

In previous semesters before the pandemic, music majors and minors had 24-hour access to the practice rooms in Capistrano Hall via key fobs that have since been deactivated, Tafoya said.

RELATED: How coronavirus will affect the campus this fall

Sac State’s School of Music now requires students to sign up for practice rooms daily as part of updated coronavirus precautions according to their website, with sign-ups starting no earlier than 9 a.m. and ending by 6 p.m.

While many music education majors own their instruments, not all marching band students do. Some students rely on the department to borrow an instrument for the semester, Bradley said.

Daniel Truitt, the instrument technician for the music department, is in charge of distributing instruments to students.  

“I am still in the process of cleaning, disinfecting and repairing [instruments],” Truitt wrote in an email on Sept. 26.

Once instrument check-out has been completed, the goal is for students to practice and submit a recording of them playing to eventually be compiled into a synched virtual piece the community can enjoy, Bradley said.

Other members of marching band, like color guard member and health science major Gabrielle Mirsky, have been required to record videos of their practice routine. 

“We don’t play an instrument, but we more so bring picture and imagery to the show,” Mirksy said about color guard, adding that she believes a virtual performance may be in the works.  

Story continues below photo.

Gabrielle Mirsky, sophomore health science major, performs with her color guard flag in the quad at Sacramento State Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. This is Mirsky’s first year on Sac State’s marching band. (Sara Nevis)

Precautions implemented for students in ensembles that have been permitted to meet on campus in small, socially-distanced groups include face masks that accommodate instrument mouth pieces and bell covers that provide a mask function for the instrument, Bradley, a member of the wind ensemble, said.

“Bell covers do change the way the sound comes out, and the way it feels to produce a sound on the instrument,” Tafoya said. “It feels like you’re playing into a wet paper bag.”

Additional personal protective equipment is only one of the ways the coronavirus is changing how Sac State students experience creating music together.

“It feels very different than what they [the ensembles] used to feel like when it was maybe 40 to 50 people in a room with the conductor, all at once,” Tafoya, a member of the symphonic orchestra and wind ensemble, said. “It’s a little isolated because everybody’s so spaced out and you have to listen further across the room to a person who would normally be like two feet away from you.”

In order to create uniformity for virtual performances and keep team morale high, marching band director Santiago Sabado is organizing T-shirts for all members, Bradley said.

“I think Mr. Sabado and all the coaches, and all the staff are doing their best,” Mirsky said. “They are doing a great job to make the best of the situation, considering everything.”