The Spirit of Stony Brook marching band performing at a football game in the fall of 2019. Three members of the Spirit of Stony Brook participated in a virtual halftime show during the College Football National Championship game. SARA RUBERG/STATESMAN FILE

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly altered the traditional college football game experience. Tailgate parties and huge crowds of spectators are a thing of the past as health and safety regulations limit stadium capacities. What’s more, college marching bands are sidelined without a crowd to excite and few opportunities to practice effectively. 

During the College Football Playoff National Championship game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Alabama Crimson Tide, the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) Intercollegiate Marching Band (IMB) performed virtually for the first time ever.

The virtual halftime show  — a flawless rendition of Beyonce’s “End of Time” —  was aired on Jan. 11, 2021 by ESPN. The performance featured 1500 performers from 200 college marching bands in 45 states and Puerto Rico.

Among the talented musicians and dancers were three members of the Spirit of Stony Brook. Junior psychology major Adena Assawakulpaibool, junior physics and mathematics major Nicholas Manzella, and senior biology major Julie Micko were nominated to play with the IMB by Dr. Justin R. Stolarik, who has been directing the Spirit of Stony Brook since Fall 2018. 

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With only a week to learn and record their pieces, musicians and dancers submitted their individual videos that were edited to showcase each and every performer. 

“Julie and Nick downloaded the music for their part, practiced on their own and then recorded themselves on video,” Stolarik said. “Adena learned the flag routine and choreography from a teaching video provided by the Intercollegiate Marching Band, and then recorded herself performing the routine.”

In attempts to create a sense of community and encouragement among the performers, Stolarik explained that all members of the Intercollegiate Marching Band had opportunities to meet each other through several Zoom meetings that took place in December and January, which was “an excellent opportunity for our members to meet marching band members from other bands across the country,” Stolarik said.

“I usually don’t record rehearsals or record shows individually, so it was a lot of pressure in that way,” Micko said. “But it was still really fun. I knew it would be part of something big and it would be a good time no matter what.”

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Presented by GPG Music and OurVirtualEnsemble, the IMB performance included every aspect of a traditional marching band. Even from their various virtual locations, dancers, majorettes and members of the color guard moved in sync with the choreography by 2018 Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps choreographer, Michael Rosales and national —and world—champion twirler, Lexi Duda.

In a press release by the CBDNA, Rosales said, “I chose to be involved with the CBDNA Intercollegiate Marching Band virtual show because it’s a great opportunity to give back to these artists and keep them engaged and involved through this difficult time. I want them to know that they are important and that their art form is necessary to the world.”

Color Guard Captain Assawakulpaibool acknowledged that the absence of in-person marching band rehearsals and the spike in virtual performances made for a new and interesting experience. 

“It’s very different learning choreography through a screen, but I think it taught many of us to adapt to a different learning style,” Assawakulpaibool said.  “It was a bit difficult to get back into it, because I hadn’t been in a performing mindset in a while so I had to jump back into the groove of things. Rehearsing the choreography was also a lot of fun because it’s exposure to new choreography styles and work.”

The IMB halftime show performance was both impressive and fun to watch. The feeling of excitement enticed by school marching bands at football games has surely been missed, but the IMB performance has proved that we can still enjoy these simple pleasures regardless of circumstances.  

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“I was honored to be nominated to represent Spirit Of Stony Brook in the IMB and seeing the final product was amazing,” Assawakulpaibool said. “It was really heartwarming to see so many people participate and it really felt like a community, even though we all had individual videos sent in, it culminated into a huge project and it made me feel special to be part of something so amazing.”

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