LOS ANGELES — Place one foot in front of the other.
It's often one of the first lessons band students at the University of Southern California learn every year — their signature marching and playing a century-long tradition on campus.
The Spirit of Troy, as they are affectionately known, has been a fixture at the university since 1918. This season looks a lot different from any the band has experienced in the past.
"It's definitely been bittersweet for me, being a senior, and somewhat anticlimactic because I did have a lot of expectations for this year," said section leader Isabel Chao.
But not all expectations were met due to the band having to go completely virtual for the first time in its history.
In mid-March, the Trojan Marching Band was gearing up to play at the Pac-12 basketball tournament. The event was then canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was the last time the 280-member band had met in person.
Since then, all operations have gone virtual. For the first time, the band had to adapt all of its operations this year.
"Within a Zoom link, we introduce music, announcements, and further break it down from there," Chao said.
Playing on Zoom has presented its share of challenges, but the band has focused on making the best of its circumstances. The group still participates in many of their traditions, including weekly aerobics lessons, marching and dancing rehearsals, and playing in group sections.
"Sometimes I even forget I'm in a pandemic because, even though I'm living through my computer screen, it almost seems like I'm still there," said Chao.
It was that feeling of still being involved that was the primary motivation for the Spirit of Troy's new take on game days.
USC kicked off its season to an empty Coliseum on November 7, although the band still performed its iconic halftime performance via Zoom with members worldwide playing along.
"Now more than ever, it's really important to show we are still fighting on, and this pandemic won't stop us from being the most spirited band out there," said Chao.
She and every other band member believe in the importance of fighting and marching on virtually until it's safe to come together in person once again, she said.