The beat goes on: Cyclone Marching Band adjusts to pandemic for football opener

The Cyclone Marching Band has implemented several safety protocols for Saturday's pregame and halftime performances. Video by Dave Olson

AMES, Iowa – Christian Carichner got a call in April from a company asking if the Cyclone Marching Band might be interested in a face covering musicians could wear while playing an instrument.

That call would begin a months-long effort of planning and developing mitigation strategies for fall rehearsals on campus and the possibility of performing at Jack Trice Stadium. Carichner started the work with no guarantee either would become a reality, but Saturday the band will make its debut at the football game against Louisiana.

“We’ve made plans, changed plans and then made new plans in preparation for this fall,” said Carichner, associate director of bands at Iowa State University and director of the Cyclone Marching Band. “Our safety protocols continue to evolve as we find better information. We try to be as nimble and responsive as possible.”

In addition to custom-designed face coverings, the band purchased bell covers to reduce the spread of aerosols through the bell of an instrument. Carichner also recruited some of the band parents to design an instrument bag to limit aerosols released through key holes.

While there was never a doubt about the necessity of such safety measures, Carichner did question how the band would cover the added expenses. The answer came within 48 hours of Carichner reaching out to marching band alumni and asking for help. In that short time, the band raised more than $20,000.

“The band alumni really stepped up. I put out a plea on Facebook and the band took care of their own,” Carichner said. “They were not only interested in keeping the band safe, but they wanted to make sure everyone could appreciate what they do.”  

Band will perform from the stands

Unlike years past, the band will not take the field at Jack Trice on Saturday, Instead, the band will take over the stands on the east side of the stadium to allow for 7.5 feet – or 4 steps in marching band terms – between each band member. Pregame and halftime performances will be from the bleachers.

Carichner has worked closely with the athletics department and several campus units in preparation for the game. He says the collaboration has been tremendous. And as he expected, the nearly 400 students in the band have embraced the changes without a single complaint. Carichner regularly checks in with band members for feedback, and they always have the option to not attend rehearsal or a performance if they feel uncomfortable.

“This is an awesome group of students and I knew they were going to ace this,” Carichner said. “They want this experience so badly and they’re willing to do whatever it takes.”