With over 250 members encompassing 60 different majors, the Pride of Arizona (POA) marching band is the largest musical ensemble on the University of Arizona campus. So, what happens when the renowned marching band is faced with a global pandemic that postpones the football season and prevents them from doing what they do best – march?
Here is a look inside their unique season.
The band had to innovative and adapt in order to create music safely. Once the news came out that football was going to be delayed, the staff worked diligently to still provide the best experience possible for the students.
“It was definitely a big challenge, but the one benefit we had was that we played outdoors,” said Chad Shoopman, director of athletic bands. “Although we didn’t do any marching, we built a grid where each stationary individual had a 15-foot circumference. All students had to play with specially designed POA-slit masks and bell covers.” Following the COVID-19 mitigation guidelines, all POA members had to test once a week to ensure the safety of the band. “I consider it a success relative to what we were facing,” said Shoopman.
Planning for a year with no performances, the Pride was astonished that the new PAC-12 guidelines allowed them to perform at the Arizona-USC game. The band played on the practice field right outside the stadium; the music piped into the stadium so the team could still hear them.
“It was an emotional experience,” said Shoopman. “I remember giving the downbeat to the national anthem, and it was just a moment for me – knowing how much the students have sacrificed, and how hard it’s been mentally, emotionally, spiritually and certainly musically.”
Arizona Football had built a big television monitor so that the POA could watch the team synchronously, and even had some members join over zoom. “It was an experience that made all of us cherish what we get to do together,” said Yudai Ueda, assistant director.
The USC game was sentimental to all staff and members, but especially to Senior Drum Major, Diego Abeytia.
Abeytia had to give up his last year of marching due to the pandemic. This one game provided one last opportunity for him to lead the band he’s been a part of for all four years.
“It was so refreshing to see, even in the odd modality with all the social distances,” Abeytia said, getting a little emotional. “Being in the heat of a game and playing all the classic stand tunes again, it was everything I could ask for in the midst of all of this.”
Luckily, this would not be the last performance of the season. The Pride Pep Band also performed at the Spring Game as well as University Vaccination Pod, celebrating both the 100,000th and 200,000th vaccine, the latter given by President Robert C. Robbins.
So, what’s next for the Pride?
“We’re looking forward to a more normal marching season in the fall,” said Ueda. “Our main halftime show will feature music by Panic! At the Disco. I hope that being able to perform the show together will be a meaningful and symbolic representation of everyone’s perseverance and efforts the past year.” With recent leadership auditions completed, selecting the new drum majors, section leaders, captains, and equipment managers, the POA is ready for the new season. “Back to normal is a relative term, but with all challenges there will be opportunities,” said Shoopman. “We need to stay positive and humble, remain hungry, but also stay flexible and be able to pivot.”
Wind spots are still open for the next season, and all are encouraged to audition. “Go for it!” exclaimed Ueda. “You will have 250 immediate friends that can help you through college, and you get to perform in Arizona Stadium in front of up to 55,000 people.”