The Marching Royal Dukes of JMU are keeping the music alive

Band rehearsals look a little different with multiple safety guidelines in place
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 5:23 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way a lot of programs are run. After months of preparing for an unusual season, the marching band at James Madison University, the Marching Royal Dukes (MRDs), has found a way to safely keep the music going.

“We knew that we could make it happen and provide the opportunity for the students, whether the season lasted four days, four weeks, or four months, we were gonna make it happen,” Director the Marching Royal Dukes, Scott Rikkers, said.

By following university, state and federal guidelines, the band has been working to maintain safety measures in rehearsals.

The band has a minimum of three different practice spaces throughout campus and holds rehearsals with half the band on Wednesdays and the other half on Thursdays, to maintain less than 250 people.

While at practice, members keep social distance and wear masks when not physically playing a wind instrument. Bell covers and flute air shields are also used.

“It’s a classroom. The football field is a classroom for us and when the students get in the classroom, we’ve got all the PPE, we’ve got all the regulations in place. It’s very organized and a very safe space. I think it’s one of the safest classrooms on campus,” Rikkers said.

Rikkers hopes the band is an example of how to safely operate as a larger group during the pandemic.

“I know many people will look at a large group of people outside playing wind instruments thinking, “how is that stopping the spread?” It’s stopping the spread because we are showing that we are following the regulations, we’re wearing our masks, we’re keeping our distance, and we are operating safely as a large group. And I think that’s a very important message to send,” Rikkers said.

Those newer to campus say they’re grateful for the chance to step away from a screen.

“The MRDs is kinda something I can look forward to every single day besides staying going in my room and doing online all the time.” Summer Khaswan, a freshman and tenor saxophone player in the MRDs, said. “It is the best thing that I have experienced in the past couple months."

And older MRD members say they are grateful the newer members get to experience a year with the band.

“I had three amazing years as an MRD and this year is a year for the freshmen to have that experience. And just kinda make sure the freshmen and the new members to the program are having a great experience under these circumstances," Sarah Zotian, a senior and mellophone player in the MRDs, said.

No matter what this season may look like, the band members say they are glad to be together.

“It’s still the same band, just in a different circumstance. And no matter what form it takes, wherever there are MRDs in one place, there is still that JMU community and spirit,” Timothy Desimone, a senior and a drum major in the MRDs, said.

“What we do on that field, is a big impact for this JMU community and for the Harrisonburg community and I believe every single member that is a part of this organization understands that,” Xavier Williams, a sophomore and trumpet player in the MRDs, said.

The future for the MRDs isn’t fully mapped out, but the band is working towards a virtual performance at the end of the semester. They will also continue to watch the football team’s schedule and are hoping to play at football games in the spring.

For now, the band plays on.

“You know just hearing the band, you know at night, I think just makes a lot of people feel like this is right,” Rikkers said.

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