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The Daily Tar Heel

Marching Tar Heels go fully remote as UNC cancels in-person classes

marching band

Senior Annabelle Webb performs during halftime with The Marching Tar Heels during the Belk College Kickoff on Aug. 31, 2019. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the marching band is practicing remotely. 

As rising numbers of COVID-19 cases on campus have forced all classes to go remote, UNC’s Marching Tar Heels are fighting to keep school pride alive.

Early in the school year, Director of University Bands Jeffrey Fuchs and his team have had to make some difficult decisions that drastically changed the operations of the student groups under his direction — pivoting away from an initial plan to run in-person meetings with social distancing measures in place.

“The ultimate decision was made that the risk of playing the brass and woodwind instruments was not worth taking,” Fuchs said. “So on July 31 we pivoted to just drums, guard and majorettes.”

The sections of the band still practicing are doing so remotely as the University continues to "de-densify" campus.

Trevor Brown, a junior trumpet player, is among the band members who will not be involved in formal practices this semester.

“It’s difficult because marching band is a big part of my whole semester,” Brown said. “So not being able to do it kind of sucks, and it takes me away from the music that I really want to play.”

Others, such as sophomore snare drum player Luke Satterfield, have been told they will continue rehearsals in a remote environment, but the future of that plan is uncertain, as their most recent rehearsal was held in person Aug. 18.

“Moving forward, I’m not really sure what to expect,” said Satterfield. “Because practicing all together online, even in small sections, could be a challenge due to the sound delay that usually comes with internet and video communication.”

Fuchs echoed the sentiment about the difficulties of online music practice, explaining that the approach to teaching his students in a virtual environment will be very different from what it might be under normal circumstances.

“A lot of the kids are finding that the virtual experience is almost more frustrating than not being able to do it at all because of latency issues with internet speeds and everything,” Fuchs said. "It’s almost impossible to do anything together, so it’s really a matter of just working on individual things.”

Despite the discrepancy between those who still expect to play in a remote environment and those whose semesters are essentially over for marching band, Fuchs said he has emphasized to his students that everybody is a part of something greater than themselves.

"Just because I can’t play doesn’t mean I don’t want anyone else to play," Brown said. “If we all don’t play, we all lose out.”

Fuchs said he understands that many students are upset by that fact that they cannot have the experience they expected and recognizes the importance of bringing everyone together — especially the new members — to the success of the program.

Heavy emphasis has been placed on keeping the social aspect of the organization intact through virtual meetings and section group chats. For some members of the marching band, an in-person fall semester was something they were looking forward to.

“For me, marching band is about Carolina pride,” Brown said. “Without marching band, I kind of lose some of that pride. Playing the fight song, playing the alma mater and getting to play at the football games ups that sense of morale for Carolina, and so without that, it kind of takes away some of the feelings I have.” 


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