The Zoom meeting filled in with students one by one. Most cameras were on, but people stayed muted as they waited for Patrick Rocks, director of Loyola’s Band of Wolves Pep Band, to join the call. When he’d scheduled the meeting days earlier, he apologized for the short notice but asked all to attend.
The second full-band meeting of the semester took a somber turn when Rocks announced that his position as an employee of Loyola was being removed, part of COVID-related cutbacks.
“I just looked at everyone’s faces, and everyone was just dead silent, like super upset,” recalled Emily Blanchard, Vice President of the band’s executive board.
Rocks is one of several Loyola Chicago staff members to be laid off in the wake of reduced revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving students in the pep band without staff leadership or a budget.
In a university update sent to faculty and staff on September 18th, school officials said staff layoffs and furloughs were needed because of a $14 million revenue shortfall from tuition alone.
For students already dealing with the isolation of remote learning, loss of the Pep Band has been painful, said Samantha Jones, President of the band’s E-Board.
“It’s definitely taken a toll on my mental health,” Jones said. As a senior, this would have been her final season playing with the group. “I always loved going to the rehearsals and games because I got to see my friends in a really fun way.”
“It feels kind of isolating,” said Blanchard. “Everyone feels isolated now. We can’t leave, we’re at home, all of that.”
Even without a director, the E-Board has no intention of letting the program disappear. A student-run version of the band will continue to operate, focusing on building and maintaining a community through online gatherings.
“As an E-Board, we definitely are trying to plan things to stay together as a band,” said Maddie Peterson, a Personnel Manager on the E-Board. “Even though it will be different, I think it will be just as fun online.”
Jones discussed some of these planned virtual events for the semester, including a modified version of the annual lock-in and basketball watch parties with the whole band.
“We’ll definitely have to keep thinking of ways to keep it engaging,” she said. “We’re trying to make it fun.”
With prospects of returning for the Spring Semester looking grim based on the recent resurgence of COVID-19, students are anticipating that the band will not return to playing in-person until the fall of 2021. Blanchard said she maintains a positive attitude towards an eventual comeback.
“My hopes are that we can function as a group again someday, under athletics, playing for games, playing for athletes,” she said. “We want to support our school; we want to support our team.”
Jones said she remains hopeful as well. “The nice thing about band kids is we all really love band, and we’re not going to quit for any reason.”