In a normal football season, fans would hear the Herd of Thunder across Raymond James stadium, getting the crowd excited as the USF Bulls take the field.
That is not necessarily the case this year.
Dr. Marc Sosnowchik, director of the Herd of Thunder, said the band has come a long way in adapting to the challenges brought by COVID-19.
In June, it was announced that there will be no bands and spirit squads on the field during this year’s football season.
“A lot of our reaction was a mixture of a lot of other things that have happened this year, grieving what we thought might have been the season,” Sosnowchik said.
Sosnowchik said that he met virtually with his students, who heard the news from social media before he was able to tell them.
They were devastated, especially seniors who were looking forward to their final season marching at Raymond James.
“Their reactions were everything you can imagine. Looking at one of my students in the face who’s crying with me on Zoom because we can’t march on the field, that’s grieving a loss,” Sosnowchik said. “This particular student was a senior in the band so I imagine that a lot of our seniors felt that hit immediately.”
After grieving, Sosnowchik and the band decided they wanted to find ways to still make this season memorable. They ended up following studies from other universities on the ways particles might mitigate between individuals in regard to the spread of the virus.
“We are following three pretty substantive studies — one from the University of Colorado, one from Colorado State University and one via University of Maryland that talks about how aerosols are emitted from instruments and how we can mitigate those,” he said. “So now every student has a bell cover over their instrument every student has a mask when they’re playing.”
Since finding solutions to controlling the air particles, the Herd of Thunder came up with the idea of recording their performances and playing them at Raymond James during the game.
“To [stop] the spread of COVID-19 was to not march, so we’re not crossing a lot of pathways and we’re not mixing those aerosols,” Sosnowchik said. “We had to come up with creative ways to do that.”
The band will use drone footage to record them already in their shapes like the signature “U” logo. Audio from the band’s performance will be edited over the video, giving the illusion of a normal performance while still preventing the risk of coronavirus.
As expected, recording a performance instead of playing them live doesn’t feel the same, especially for veteran band members.
“The first video production didn’t feel normal,” Sosnowchik said. “It didn’t feel authentic.”
Sosnowchick also said that it is still a work in progress, but he relies heavily on his students, more importantly, band captains, for feedback on how they can continue to make the process better.
“I get a lot of advice from students but I also get data from things like Google Forms and surveys,” Sosnowchik said. “I can’t stress enough the importance of our band captains because they kind of keep their thumb on the pulse of the band, and maybe at rehearsal they’ll come up to me and say, ‘Hey, this thing is working really well, but some student suggests this thing. Would you consider implementing that?’ And nine times out of 10 we try to implement those things.
“This is the season to meet our students’ wishes in the best ways we can.”
Sosnowchik stressed how this season so far has been a time full of experimenting, trying to make things work and even finding new traditions to add for upcoming years.
“We’re excited to see how we can make these halftime productions better and better,” he said. “This was a year to launch some different things that we thought should be sewn into the fabric of what we do every year after 2020.”
The band won’t be allowed to perform on the field for now, but Sosnowchik said he and the band are most looking forward to being back in Raymond James playing at halftime for USF in person.
“We’re excited to be with our athletic family again, being in that environment and being with that family in that way,” he said. “That’s a really special thing.”
For the full conversation with Dr. Sosnowchik, listen to The Oracle Sports Podcast with Nolan Brown and Hannah Halili, which premieres Wednesday night on your podcast platform of choice.