For Indiana high school marching bands, the show will not go on as planned.
The Indiana State School Music Association announced Friday that it has canceled its marching band contests for this coming season. The decision affects all ISSMA events from the Summer Showcase on Aug. 24 to the Open Class State Finals on Nov. 9.
ISSMA canceled its contests due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools and band directors had been notified Wednesday, in hopes of giving them a chance to inform the students directly. In many cases, that left directors no opportunity to discuss the decision with their students in person, and emails raced the rumor mill to those students’ attention.
Directors concurred with the ruling, but immediately began to reinvent their shows and their fall programs in hopes to giving students a form of marching band experience. For most, that restructuring had begun before the feared if not anticipated announcement. Decisions will be based on answers to new waves of questions that will continue to unfold with the pandemic.
Bishop Dwenger High School had a backup plan in place, and this week will begin rehearsing for winter activities.
In a statement, ISSMA said it made the decision to cancel contests with deep regret and disappointment.
A statement quoting ISSMA Executive Director Mick Bridgewater said, “After careful consideration of all options, and in accordance with ISSMA’s responsibility to provide a safe and respectful environment at all ISSMA events, the ISSMA Executive Committee has determined those guidelines and measures could not be effectively put in place to ensure a safe environment for students, directors, supporting personnel, adjudicators, workers and spectators at a live marching band event.” ISSMA said it would explore the option of “a process to provide an assessment through virtual means ... “
The decision from the marching band’s state oversight group does not bar schools from participating in non-ISSMA festivals. For most area bands, the first such independent showcase of each season usually would be the On the Banks of the Wabash Marching Band Festival at Bluffton High School, which had been scheduled for Sept. 12. Bluffton H.S. Director of Bands Jim Bueter soon confirmed that the On the Banks of the Wabash marching band contest won't proceed in 2020.
Norwell High School, though, said the current plan is is to proceed with that school’s band festival. In an email, band director Cory Kelley said, “As of right now, Norwell plans to move forward with our marching band season and are still making preparations for hosting our Invitational on Sept. 19 for any bands that would still like to participate and give their students a performance opportunity.”
Homestead High School Band Director Bryen Warfield confirmed that the Homestead Fall Festival of Band will not be presented, for the first time since 1977.
ISSMA’s decision also left open the door to competing in Midstates Band Association events, mostly in Ohio. That organization planned a July 18 video conference for directors to map the best way forward. No decision has been announced as of midnight Sunday.
Carroll, Concordia, Homestead and some other area bands last year also participated in Bands of America. BOA regionals begin Sept. 19, with super regionals along the way to the 24th event — the Grand National Championships — Nov. 12-14 in Indianapolis. At least one director ventured that BOA also will cancel the season. No such announcement had been made as of midnight Sunday.
Bands are still free to participate in parades and community festivals, but the last large community celebrations in northeast Indiana were canceled the same week of the ISSMA decision.
The culmination of the band calendar, though, has been the ISSMA schedule, with separate tracks for Festival Class, Scholastic Class and Open Class bands to compete for trophies at steps leading to Indianapolis in October or November. Northeast Indiana historically has been well represented among the 10 bands in each of four divisions at an all-day finale at Lucas Oil Stadium. That door has been closed. The process and expense of creating, costuming and refining shows would remain, even in an abbreviated season. So bands have begun to look at other expressions. Carroll High School Band Director Doug Hassell said the show commissioned for 2020 will be preserved for 2021.
Even before Friday’s announcement, many marching bands had started their summer practice schedules, already adhering to local, state and federal health officials’ advice.
How the shows will look now, in the wake of yet another setback, continues to unfold.
Hassell, at Carroll, described the elusive answer as “a constantly moving target that we’re trying to find and hit.”
Hassell said, “We’re in the process of recruiting and reimagining what our marching band looks like this year. The details are still a ways from being fleshed out.”
He said students are coping with a “tremendous sense of sadness,” but also accepting “that different doesn’t have to be disappointing.”
Concordia Lutheran High School Director of Bands Jennifer Porath wrote, “ISSMA’s announcement to cancel ISSMA-sanctioned marching events was certainly a disappointment, but we agree that it was the best choice of action. The safety of everyone involved with this activity is of utmost importance. Given the current health and financial risks due to the COVID-19 virus, we feel the most effective way to accomplish our goal of sharing our passion for music and Christ is to put our efforts into pursuing a non-competitive format for our 2020 marching season.
“Competition is an important part of this activity, as it helps to keep us motivated to improve. However, it is not our main focus. We know our mission of using our collective passions for performance and music, to glorify Him and His message, will endure even during this temporary setback for our 2020 season. Our marching show will look a little different this year. We will be scaling back our show and using different music, but we will still have lots of movement and choreography, very similar to winterguard or WGI (Winter Guard International) Winds. There are still so many unknowns, but we will face this new challenge as we do all challenges, with Christ as our Stronghold. We know and trust God’s hand in all things.
“We will still have our band camp and weekly rehearsals. We will try to use many Saturdays to perform in the community. We will still have a full staff. But most importantly, the Marching Cadets WILL continue our mission to be a beacon of Christ’s light and message within our school and community throughout the fall.”
Kelley, at Norwell, said, “We are saddened by the news that ISSMA has decided to cancel their events for the 2020 Fall Season but are excited for the innovative opportunities that present themselves this year. It has been our mission all along to create meaningful and memorable experiences through the performance of music; Our motto of Excellence in Music = Success in Life will continue to be a guide. We will continue to pursue musical excellence no matter the arena we find ourselves in. More than ever, our communities, students and schools need inspiring reassurance of hopeful inspiration. We plan to do our best to play a leading role in bringing that inspiration to others.”
Warfield, at Homestead, said he has attempted to assure students that, “We’re going to work together and put something together for them.”
“We need to move forward,” he said. “It’s the right decision and it’s not an easy decision. We need to give our kids the experience of the Spartan Alliance and give them a show.”
Bishop Dwenger High School Band Director Don Cochran informed his students of ISSMA’s decision Thursday. At the end of the Friday morning rehearsal, he told them they were marking the end of the summer band season. Next week, though, he said, BDHS will begin rehearsing for winter drum line, winter guard, winter winds and jazz band.
Several students then began the process of enrolling in winter activities — in July.
“Next week we start practicing for our winter season. It’s hard to imagine. But you’re going to take the skills you’ve been working on the last two weeks and you’re going to build on those,” Cochran said.
“So this is exciting,” he said. “If you’ve got friends in a feeder school or the high school, you’re going to be able to bring them into this. And they can have a good time.
“But I see you kids having an awesome summer and a great start to the year. We’ll make adjustments along the way because the road’s not straight from here. It’s going to be a very fluid year. But you can do it. You’re amazing.”
“I wasn’t too surprised,” senior Henry Pflueger said. “It’s upsetting but we’ll figure it out. We have winter season to go. We’ll keep playing.”
He noted that those same winter activities had been canceled by the same virus this past school year.
“Morale is good,” Pflueger said. “It’s a building band. All the kids have really good attitudes. I think all the kids have a bright future and I think the program will do well.”
Jacob Gramm, a senior, had been preparing for his fifth year in marching band. “Every Saturday you go out and as soon as you step on that field you just get goosebumps,” he said. “It’s exhilarating to be out there with everybody knowing that you’ve put in that hard work and show it off to everybody. The confidence you feel! You just lose all nerves. It’s the best experience I’ve had in high school.”
Sarah Sisz, a senior, will miss out on her second year as drum major. She said she is glad the band got the bad news directly from Cochran. “I think it was a lot easier to hear it from him and he was able to assure us, sympathize with us, instead of the news being broken to us on the internet,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we experience a season in some way and I think winter winds is the best way to go personally because you’re still able to play an instrument and have an experience similar to marching band.”
“I feel as though they are sad, especially some of the seniors are sad that they didn’t get that last opportunity,” Cochran said. “But at the same time they were prepped that this could happen and they were prepped on what would happen afterward if this did. So we immediately switched gears. We pulled them in today to do a concluding rehearsal and, as you can see, kids came.”
So Bishop Dwenger rehearsals change from marching band to one of the four winter activities, at least as long as the state permits. “Anything can change at any time,” Cochran said. “And they’re aware of that. It’s been emotional.”
“Yesterday was a like a gale force wind,” Cochran said at the final marching band practice. “But you guys adjusted your sails and you showed up today. Because that’s what we do.
“You’re a part of a group, you enjoy being together, you thrive off of this, you enjoy making music, you enjoy being creative and it’s exciting. And sometimes when there’s a roadblock placed in front of you, you just have to find a way around it. And we were ready to go.”