At the start of my freshman year, I was looking for ways to get involved on campus when I stumbled upon a club called the “USF Dons Band” at the Involvement Fair. As someone who tapped into their musical talents at the age of seven, when I first played the piano, the band seemed like the perfect way for me to partake in a campus activity, and continue to explore my interest in music.
Having a marching band in college allows students to bolster their musical self-expression. The band has helped me to express myself and step out of my comfort zone artistically. It is important because college students may have a difficult time finding their crowd and interests.
Despite all the benefits it brings, the Dons Band has faced many challenges, which led to a decline in enrollment during and after the COVID pandemic. According to the USF Dons Band website, the team has a 30-player capacity, but since COVID, membership has declined. This year, there are only 12 active members. When the COVID lockdowns started in March 2020, the Dons Band were at the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. They returned to USF right after, and then, along with the rest of USF, all members engaged in remote learning, according to the band’s director and adjunct professor Joseph Lares, who founded the Dons Band in 2009.
When USF went fully remote, it was difficult for organizational in-person activities — like band rehearsal — to take place. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, few areas of the U.S economy were hit harder than the performing arts. This was especially true on college campuses.
Lares said, “Members graduated, recruitment dwindled, and by Fall 2021 the band was only down to eight members. It was unclear if we would be able to rebound from the pandemic, but with a core of student officers still operating over Zoom wanted to relaunch the band.”
Despite difficulties, the band persevered and continued to rebuild as a club. While meeting on Zoom, the Dons Band created a “Stay-at-Home Project” with band members altogether and performed a rendition of “San Francisco” by Judy Garland.
To truly bring the band to its full level again, we must rebuild what has been lost: by bringing more people together and sharing a common love for performing arts.
The Dons band amplifies school spirit through athletic events, Halloween block parties, and competitions against other bands. The main catalog of their music setlist varies through all music genres. It includes hits from Bruno Mars, Daft Punk, Otis Redding, the Foo Fighters, and traditional marching band repertoire.
Not only is this a club that students of all skill levels can sign up for, but the Performing Arts and Social Justice Department offers the band as a course for a max of two credits.
As a course, the band meets in the War Memorial Gym every Monday. The musicians split up into sectionals and divide the ensemble into groups — brass, woodwinds, and percussion — to practice their parts. A section leader is assigned to a particular group to supervise them, and guide the musicians through parts they may struggle with.
Junior band member, and computer science major, Zachary Alon said that he joined the band because of his “desire to perform and to improve his skills as a musician.” Alon plays the alto saxophone.
Alon, the executive manager, said, “New members are the lifeblood of the band. I want people to know that the Dons band is not only a place to play music, but also a tight knit community.”
With more in-person campus activities taking place, the Dons Band now has the opportunity to recover. Performing arts organizations got hit hardest in the pandemic, however the perseverance of staying active through virtual interaction allowed them to survive. Now, the Dons Bands is showing that there can be a further revitalization of creativity and community spirit.
The Dons Band’s next major gig will be at the Chase Center Doubleheader on Nov. 26th. To join the Dons Band, follow @usfdonsband on Instagram or the official website for more info.