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The UMBC Down and Dirty Dog Band keeps pep during quarantine

In the brief period of 2020 before the pandemic forced many students off campus, the UMBC Pep Band could have been found at any and all of the Men’s Basketball home games; should the year have gone as planned, the band could have possibly followed the team all the way to Vermont and to the American East Conference. Now, however, as with any other UMBC organization whose in-person meetings are considered non-essential, the group hovers in a strange and seemingly endless state of limbo.

With both an uncertain future and an uncomfortable present, the band is a microcosm of the overall struggles that UMBC organizations have faced in the recent months. The Retriever reached out to a few of the group members, as well as the band leader, for their thoughts on the current state of things. 

A common theme in all of the interviews was that of nostalgia. Guitarist Trevor Spina, a senior computer science major, put it succinctly: “Playing music with people was a lot of fun … I made a lot of friends. I wasn’t too much into basketball beforehand, so I wouldn’t say I got into it because of basketball, but I’d say that since getting into it, I learned to appreciate it a lot more. My freshman year, when we went to March Madness, and the upset happened, that was a highlight.”

It is true, the Pep Band as an organization was inherently tied up with the basketball team, and the sudden cancellation of the 2020 season was a big tailspin introduced by the pandemic, both for the team and for the band. 

Elsewhere, Costas Likakis, UMBC ‘06 Alum and current band director, reflected on this chaotic and abrupt end to the season, as well as the confusion that followed. “The men’s team was pretty decent this past year, then they were like, ‘Oh, well, all the tournaments are done.’ Basically, Spring sports were over. When I was an undergrad, the band tried to play as many sporting events as possible, and the Athletic department was on board with us playing lacrosse games, baseball games,” Likakis said.

“Now, apparently they are going to try and do basketball, but there’s a lot of confusion about if the band will be there. You know, horned instruments make the spread 30 feet instead of six feet, and even if we could cover the instruments, making people stand six feet apart is pretty bad for the sound.” 

An important point that Likakis makes here is the inherent damage of Coronavirus guidelines on the way the Pep Band is meant to operate, something which all in-person organizations have to deal with. Up until March, the band meeting and playing in person was something taken for granted, but in the age of Zoom, group music collaboration is, if not impossible, at least cumbersome. As such, remaining active as a musical group, is difficult during a time of social distancing.

“It’s hard,” drummer Aaron Westcat, senior animation major, said. “The instruments that I play, I don’t own … the same can be said for all of the drumline. Nobody in drumline owns their instruments, it all belongs to the band, or to UMBC. It’s hard for a lot of people to get that stuff.”

On this topic, Likakis made similar observations. “We sent out audition music, just in case, and we’re having people record themselves play. I’m looking into different sites that could compile that stuff… Athletics wants to have a virtual town hall next month, and they asked for the band to play, if we could stitch together a video or something. I thought it might be short notice, but moving forward, we could definitely do that.” 

In all of these conversations, a key theme was that of adaptation, of moving forward and finding alternatives to an older normal. Even after a hypothetical vaccine, there may be no going back to a pre-Coronavirus time for a long while, and these sentiments were echoed by every interviewee. 

“It’s gonna just be gradual steps to getting back to normal,” Likakis stated. “I like to think of it positively; yes, it shut down a lot of things, but it showed what was important.” Similarly, Spina looked towards keeping the band alive during uncertain times. “I don’t think indoor events are the best right now, but maybe outdoor events could work. Maybe a distanced parade? I don’t know, maybe we’ll become an all-cowbell band.” 

Although it may be a long time until the pep band is able to play for a crowd-filled stadium once again, it is these attitudes of evolution and optimism that keep groups like the Pep Band alive during this time. In spite of the uncertain future in front of the Pep Band, the student body, the nation and the world, the prognosis of every interviewee was only looking forward, and hopefully this atmosphere of hope will endure for the long interval of discomfort ahead.