Things were looking pretty good for the Penn Band at the beginning of March: not only were we going to be playing the Ivy Tournament at Harvard during spring break, but we would also be recording an album when we returned to Penn! So when the pandemic hit, the band was one of my biggest concerns. We wouldn’t be able to play together, let alone at basketball games for a packed stadium.
The band made it through the rest of the semester in the form of social events, so we could still keep in touch (in a Zoom kind of way, of course). When the still-quarantined fall arrived, band leadership announced how things would work this time around: we were going to record that album! Every Monday at the normal rehearsal time, we meet synchronously to discuss the song for the week, and then the recording itself is done asynchronously on our own time.
“Hey – do you have a tuba at home?” one of the band directors asked me on Facebook. “Sadly not,” I responded, “What’s the plan with that?” The response: “Good question.” Getting a giant tuba from Philly to Boston was not going to be easy—I couldn’t go down there for obvious reasons, and mailing something like that would be insane.
Or would it? After some back and forth, the director said that my tuba was in the mail, on the way. I was curious how they’d get it here, but after wondering for a bit, I stopped thinking about it for the next few days…until my mom came into my room and said there was “something for you on the porch.” I probably uttered a surprised expletive when I saw it: a whole dang tuba, just sitting there in a case on my porch. The band never ceases to amaze me.
With my new tuba in tow, I have been able to participate in the album process, sitting down in front of my computer and recording the parts for a different song each week (or more accurately, missing a few weeks and then recording a bunch of songs in a row—it’s been a busy semester). Feeling like you’re part of a band making music is a special thing when you’re doing it asynchronously from your bedroom. I think a highlight for me was the song “Radioactive”, where the part requires us to scream at the top of our lungs. My parents were terrified!
But being in the band has never just meant playing music: there’s a big social element too, and I was really happy to be able to participate in more of those events this semester. A great one near the start of the year (and again later on) was a “speed-dating” night, where we would randomly get assigned into Zoom breakout rooms and get a few minutes to talk to someone, whether it was catching up with an old friend or meeting someone new. There have also been game nights, and when it comes to pandemic fun, it’s hard to beat virtual Pictionary with a bunch of friends.
Probably the best social event of the semester, though, was a band tradition in a new format. Bonegiving is when the low brass section puts on a show for the rest of the band at the last rehearsal before Thanksgiving, and we always put a ton of preparation into it. This year we decided on an Among Us theme for the show (because nothing represents 2020 more than that game), and I spent a lot of time in the writing sessions concocting the inside jokes and pop culture references that comprise every Bonegiving performance. We made sure to take advantage of the Zoom format too (virtual backgrounds can really set a scene!). Even though we unsurprisingly hit some hurdles relating to putting on a virtual show, it was an absolute blast to put on!
I’ll be the first to say that it’s been hard to feel like a part of the Penn community this year. Everyone is so busy and isolated, and I feel like I haven’t had a lot of chances to reach out to my friends to see how they’re doing. That’s why the band has been so incredible—I feel so connected to this group, from their willingness to send massive instruments 250 miles to Boston, to the shared joy of recording songs together (even if it is asynchronous), to the awesome social events that have kept us all in touch. The band has shown how important it is to stay connected with the folks we know at Penn, and that’s just one example: there are so many clubs that it’ll be easy to find your community here, even if it’s virtual for now.