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The Big Red Marching Machine Prepares for an Unprecedented Season

Written by on February 26, 2021

Illinois State University traces its band program back more than 90 years.

Photo courtesy to BRMM Facebook page

NORMAL, Ill. – The 2021 Redbird Football season is set to be one like no other. Hancock Stadium will be limited to 20% capacity, the team will play a shortened eight-game schedule, and everyone will be required to wear a mask inside the stadium. The football team isn’t the only group facing new challenges, though. ISU’s marching band, the Big Red Marching Machine, is set to embark on an unusual season as well.

The first thing people will notice about this year’s rendition of the Big Red Marching Machine is it’s not as big as in seasons before. Many student musicians opted to live at home for school this year. This has led to the ensemble shrinking in size.

ISU junior and clarinet section leader Freda Hogan noted the change, and how it differs from the band’s past seasons.

“It’s a lot smaller. If there was someone who didn’t 100% know their part in Fall 2019, we’d probably let it slide. Now if someone doesn’t know their part, they’re 10% of the section. There’s a higher standard of making sure everyone knows what’s going on at all times,” said Hogan.

Hogan says she believes that the smaller section size and coronavirus protocols have put more pressure on her shoulders as a section leader.

“It feels weird to be a section leader, because pre-pandemic I knew what was going on all the time. If someone came to me with a question, I was always able to say ‘this is what you need to be doing, this is where you need to be going,’ and now I’m just as blind as everyone else,” said Hogan. “It’s taken away some of the confidence and added more responsibility and pressure, which is a really wild ride.”

However, she isn’t the only one feeling pressure this season. Professor Mack Wood is leading the band in his first year at ISU, and he says COVID-19 guidelines have created new challenges for the band.

“It’s knowing ‘what can we do, what can we not do,’ and making sure we’re following the guidelines. We’re making sure we’re staying on top of those things. I think that’s been the biggest challenge,” said professor Wood.

Coronavirus guidelines are more complex for a band than just staying six feet apart like in a standard classroom. With instruments and saliva involved, things become trickier for the band to do.

Because of the nature of musical instruments, bell covers and musician’s masks are required.

Bell covers are put over an instrument’s bell to catch droplets, the primary way the virus spreads. Musician’s masks work the same way standard masks do, but are equipped with a slit at the mouth. This allows the musician to put the mouthpiece in their mouth and play. A popular version of the mask comes with two pieces of Velcro, so the mask can be closed when not playing.

Wood says regardless of all of the new changes this season, the Big Red Marching Machine is still excited to perform.

Wood says even if the musician count is smaller, everyone should expect the same Big Red sound and excitement this Saturday.

“I hope they see a group that’s very happy to be at the football game, to show ISU spirit, and to continue to add to the community that is ISU,” said professor Wood. “I hope they see a group of students that are excited to finally get out and do the thing we’ve been waiting to do since fall.”