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A different tune for college marching bands in a pandemic

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NORMAN, Okla. — As the Oklahoma marching band’s rendition of “Sweet Victory” filled Memorial Stadium, everything was in place on the field.

More than 300 Pride of Oklahoma members formed a perfect pattern from one goal line to the other during an elaborate performance for the game against Kansas State. The sharp tweet of a whistle kicked off songs from familiar TV shows. Crimson and cream flags waved in unison under the stadium’s bright lights.

One critical element was absent — a crowd, unless you count a few carboard cutouts. Instead of entertaining tens of thousands of Sooners fans live on a Saturday afternoon, the band put its show together in an empty stadium on a Thursday night — the trumpets’ bells covered amid concerns about spittle, not far behind the baton twirler moving effortlessly in the middle of it all.

The band isn’t allowed on the field at games due to the pandemic, so Brian Britt, Oklahoma’s director of bands, has decided to record performances in advance and have them played on the big screen during games. It’s a way to keep some semblance of the pageantry that has largely been lost in this unusual season.

Marching bands, part of the game since its beginning more than a century ago, are idled or toned down across the country. They won’t be able to perform in front of the usual crowds. Some are performing in reduced numbers and others are doing virtual performances.

Many can’t get together to create the family-like atmosphere they are known for because of class size limitations and social distancing rules on campus.

“Much of what makes our band experience special has been altered, and you can really feel it,” Oklahoma drum major Paxton Leaf said.

At Ohio State home games, marching band members stream onto