The band’s back together: Peppas resume practice during COVID-19

Junior Marlon Harris and Senior Sam Lewis play drums for the Peppas, who resumed practice two weeks ago with social distancing measures. Photo by Jon Mirador.

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

It wasn’t the sound of the basketball buzzer or a volleyball being spiked that filled the Stuart C. Siegel Center on Sunday night, but the familiar music from sold out games of years past.

Behind a couple of black curtains hanging from the rafters that separated the basketball court from a side area, VCU’s pep band, The Peppas, were back in action. The ensemble is rehearsing once again — this time, socially distanced. 

Director Duane Coston said rehearsing together is different, but a step toward operating as the band once did. 

“It’s a sense of normalcy, in which yes, we can be together and play,” Coston said, “but it’s not even close to what we are normally doing.”

The band normally would practice as if it were a basketball game — in the stands next to one another, Coston said. Instead, they meet in groups based on what instruments they play. 

On top of being socially distanced during practice, brass players covered their instruments’ bells to reduce the spread of aerosol emissions. Some in the band used covers designed for the instruments, while others got creative, using T-shirts and other cloth materials. 

Trombonist Andrew Johnson and sousaphone player Noah Mason practice with their instruments’ bells covered to reduce the spread of aerosol emissions. Photo by Jon Mirador

Senior Sam Lewis, another drummer in the band, said the structure is different, but it feels normal to play.        

“It’s what we do every single week,” Lewis said, “and it’s what we’ve done since I’ve been in the band since freshman year.”

The Peppas resumed practice two weeks ago, the first time playing together since the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament in Brooklyn was cut short due to COVID-19. 

Junior drummer Marlon Harris, who was in Brooklyn during the March tournament, said he couldn’t wait for the day to come where they were practicing together again. 

“Ever since that day, I’ve been wanting to play with the band again,” Harris said. “It feels so good to be back. I just missed all the people, and this is so much fun.”

Harris said returning to practice was important as he only sees some of his friends during that time. 

“I’m enjoying myself,” Harris said. “I missed these guys and being back is just a good feeling.”

Although the band was separated during COVID-19, Coston said they met virtually to catch up and learn new songs. He said the goal is to have smaller “pep bands” consisting of 29-30 people to resemble the sound of the full band. Coston said he doesn’t know when the entire band will be able to play together again. 

Over the break, Lewis said he and a few band members tried to play with each other virtually, but they weren’t able to make it work. He said getting the band back together in person gave him an escape. 

“I guess to me, it gives me my outlet again,” Lewis said. “I just started playing drums with the band last year, and it’s just something that I like to do.”

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