Saturday, April 20, 2024

Rocket Marching Band Continues Standards Of Excellence Despite Pandemic

The University of Toledo Rocket Marching performing at the Glass Bowl during the 2019 season. Image courtesy of


Transitioning from Summer to Fall in Toledo has generally meant that the University of Toledo Rocket Football Team takes the field at the Glass Bowl. If you are a UT fan, you know that UT football games are enhanced by the presence of the Rocket Marching Band.  This fall, however, the Band’s activities have been drastically altered due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. 

The Mid-American Conference (MAC) was the first conference to cancel or postpone the Fall 2020 season, eliminating most of the Rocket Marching Band’s scheduled 2020 performances. But, despite the elimination of pregame and halftime performances, the Rocket Marching Band remains productive and creative this fall.

We caught up with Dr. Andrew Rhodes, Director of the Rocket Marching Band who is in his 11th year at the University of Toledo. 

How has the UT Marching Band adapted or changed their rehearsals for the pandemic?
We have made several changes to make things as low-risk as possible. Everybody is wearing a mask during rehearsals, including specially designed masks for the wind instrument players to wear while playing. We have bell covers on the wind instruments as well to reduce the aerosols projected into the air around us. During rehearsals, everyone is spaced out six-feet side-to-side and all rehearsals are held outside. We maintain social distancing during breaks and masks only come off when band members are drinking water. We will not be holding any rehearsals or performances indoors this fall. In years past, we would share one microphone and a set of speakers. This year myself, the rest of the staff, and drum majors have their own microphone and speaker to avoid having to share one. We’re following science as closely as possible; everything we’re doing is based on science and not personal speculation. 

With no football this fall, what are your goals for the Rocket Marching Band for Fall 2020?
We are looking to continue our traditions in a consistent manner, as much as possible. The reality is our mission does not drive specifically from collegiate athletics, even though we perform at athletic events. Our mission statement talks about excellence, continual growth as an organization and as individual members. Normally, we only have so much time to get the music and charts ready for a game that sometimes can only do so much. Considering our fall semester now, we can spend more time on getting music down while also spending more time on fundamentals and leadership skills amongst all our members. We’ll also spend time working on issues related to diversity, equality, and inclusion, which is an important part of what we do. Band is a place for everyone, and we want that to be true for the Rocket Marching Band and all of our members and staff. 

Even though the news of the fall football season came late in the summer leading up to our training camp, we spent the summer planning out different scenarios to implement accordingly, both remotely and in-person. Our main goal is the education of music, performance, and the arts. We have very dedicated students and staff, so we can work hard and live up to our tradition of excellence. We are in the planning stages of having some live-streamed performances in the weeks ahead. The students and staff are excited to finally have an outlet to showcase the hard work they have been doing. 

Do you have any advice for educators on how to adapt to changing class participation?
The thing I have struggled with the most is that, as educators, we get locked into a routine that we’ve spent years developing and refining and we’re so certain it’s how it works for us. You must make necessary changes over time, but we have had to evolve a lot in a really short period of time. It takes years to be good at teaching in person; I know my colleagues who teach K-12 and college have all had varying challenges when adapting to virtual learning. When starting to teach this way, just know that it will not be perfect the first time. Put yourself in the mindset you had when you first started teaching and be willing to take constructive criticism from colleges and students to try and make it better for everybody. 

“The reality is our mission does not drive specifically from collegiate athletics, even though we perform at athletic events. Our mission statement talks about excellence, continual growth as an organization and as individual members.” -Dr. Andrew Rhodes

We also talked to Michael Browder of Perrysburg, OH, a 4th-year senior majoring in Recreational Therapy who is currently serving as one of the three Drum Majors for the Rocket Marching Band.

As leader in the Rocket Marching Band, what are your goals for this semester?

As a whole, we are trying our best to make sure we are doing everything correct on and off the field to make our organization shine. We want to set a positive example for how an on-campus student organization can and should operate during a pandemic. We are using science and state guidelines to make sure we are doing everything right. We make it a point that if you are not feeling well, don’t come to practice and get medical attention if needed. Myself, the other drum majors, and the section leaders are an extension of Dr. Rhodes and the rest of the staff, so we use leadership for the sake of rehearsal progress and the health and safety of all the members and staff. I’m proud to be in this organization right now because we’re proving that we can participate in a marching band in a pandemic safely and promote safety measures for other marching bands, other student organizations and the community.

Besides the pandemic-related changes for the fall semester, what else is new or different with the Rocket Marching Band?
Something new for this year is we have an athletic trainer on staff. She’s a UT Rec employee who’s working on her sports science degree at the university. She’s making sure we warm-up and stretch correctly while learning about injuries that can occur in marching band.

How are rehearsals conducted to ensure everyone’s safety?
We’re making sure to take water breaks more frequently; every 25-30 minutes. Not only so the members can stay hydrated, but to also clear the air for any particles put into it. And even during water breaks, everyone maintains appropriate distancing. It also gives people the opportunity to use hand sanitizer and whatnot. What’s great is the university and the music department were able to provide the RMB masks and hand sanitizer for everyone.

Kale Vollmar of Haskins, OH is a freshman majoring in Biology who is a Quad Player in UT’s Drumline.

With the pandemic and the restrictions, what made you still want to join the Rocket Marching Band this year?

I really enjoy being in band and it’s an opportunity to be around other people who love music and drumming and to create music with them. Even if we can’t be in very many performance settings, it’s a nice break in the day devoted to playing music with others.

As a drummer, what challenges are you facing when it comes to health and safety guidelines?
We have pods where everyone stores their drums, but only one person can be in the pod at a time. In addition, we are instructed to only touch your instrument, making it a longer process for getting the drums out and ready for a rehearsal. Like the rest of the band, we must maintain social distancing on the field. It’s tougher for a drumline to play in time with each other when we’re not right next to each other. 

As a new college student and a new member of the Rocket Marching Band, what’s your experience been like so far?
It’s been alright considering I’ve never had the campus experience before; I don’t have much to compare that to. I can only imagine what it’ll be like with more people on campus in a world without a pandemic. With marching band, finding out the football games were cancelled was disappointing after spending my summer practicing the audition music. I was really looking forward to performing at football games, as was everyone else. I know we are planning on having Facebook Live performances this semester, so I’m curious to see how those will turn out.

For news and updates on the Rocket Marching Band, visit or

Tanner Wertz

Recent Articles