On Friday, October 22nd, University of Virginia Executive Vice President and Provost Liz Magill updated the university community on mask policies and COVID-19 restrictions relating to the Cavalier Marching Band. Until the announcement, the band had been prohibited from playing wind instruments while in the stands at Scott Stadium, and could only play while on the field for pregame and halftime performances. The band was also required to be masked in the stands at the beginning of the season, but that restriction was lifted after initial pushback from students who deemed the protocol unfair. Prior to the mandate being lifted, band members were the only band in the ACC faced with such restrictions.
Maria Parnell, a fourth-year trumpet player in the band, spearheaded a recent effort to “Let the UVA Marching Band Play,” creating a petition on change.org which currently has almost 8500 signatures, amassing nearly 5000 signatures in the first 24 hours. The petition argued that even with proposed compromises that included COVID-19 testing, instrument bell covers, and social distancing, all attempts had been shut down by the UVA administration.
“It didn’t seem like we were actually making a difference in the safety of Scott Stadium,” said Parnell. In attempts to get justification from the administration about the decision and the data surrounding it, Parnell said “we were given inconclusive answers.” In an effort to put more pressure on the UVA administration, band members also painted Beta Bridge on Thursday and posted hundreds of fliers all over Grounds advertising their petition. The petition has since garnered hundreds of supportive comments.
“Marching bands are a huge part of the college sports landscape. The experience isn’t the same without them,” said commenter Jacob Ikeda.
Even students from rival schools expressed their support.
“Sending love from the Indiana University Marching Hundred!! I hope y’all can get back into action ASAP,” said Ella Jasnieski, another commenter. In another comment, Breanna Goode admitted, “even as a Virginia Tech student, this doesn’t sit right with me.”
Leading up to the policy change, students provided the administration with studies showing wind instruments are safer than vocalization, but UVA public health experts disagreed and refused to let the band play in the stands for the first four home games of the season. In her email, Liz Magill stated, “Students participating in for-credit drama, dance, and instrumental music activities will have more opportunities to practice and perform indoors… As a result of these changes, the Cavalier Marching Band, which is a for-credit activity, will be able to play in the stands at Scott Stadium.”
In response to the updated policy, second-year mellophone player Ben Tharakan said, “this announcement from the university really encourages us as members of the band. We’re all excited to finally be able to play in the stands of Scott Stadium.”
Although the band will be permitted to play in the stadium, they now face additional restrictions which the university deems necessary to ensure the safety of those in attendance. These measures include the use of masks for non-wind performers, specialized masks for wind performers, and bell covers for brass instruments.
Band members are excited about being able to play, but some still find the added restrictions overbearing and contradictory.
“I am beyond thrilled about the decision to allow wind players to play in the stands,” said third-year tenor player Bronte Sundstrom. “I miss playing with the winds and am excited to play a larger variety of stand tunes. I am, however, concerned about the reinstating of the mask mandate,” which he says was reintroduced “for no logical reason.”
Overall, UVA student supporters are very excited about this update.
“I am excited to hear the band play the good old song after every score. Hearing it over the loudspeaker this season has not been the same,” second-year student Brian Luong said.
The updated COVID guidelines in Provost Magill’s update also included an extension through the end of the semester of the already instated mask mandate inside all “university-owned or leased space, regardless of vaccination status,” as well as updates on the university’s guidance on mask use at IM-Rec facilities. Patrons participating in group classes or using cardio equipment will no longer be required to wear masks. The general mask mandate still applies in all other areas of these facilities. The administration also updated the community about plans to hold the 20th Annual Lighting of the Lawn in person, after holding the event virtually last year.