Bands march toward uncertain future

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Forest Park High School junior Mimi Lutz, center bottom, marches with the band at the school's first marching band practice of the season at the school in Ferdinand on Tuesday.


Following monthslong fermatas, the collective steps and sounds of marching bands are filling practice fields and horns in Dubois County.

Looking too far into the locally popular activity’s 2020 season — which is currently set to culminate at the Indiana State School Music Association Finals in early November — is still an exercise marred by question marks and uncertainties.

But for now, extra precautions are in place to keep the performers as safe as possible, and local band leaders are focusing on what they can control as they wade through the unknowns that they can’t.

Of course, they know changes could rock their path to state contests in Indianapolis.

“Fortunately, we do a good job of not worrying about them,” David Fox, director of the Northeast Dubois Marching Jeeps, said of his band. “Because they’re just so far out of our control. What ISSMA and the [Indiana] Department of [Education] and Gov. [Eric] Holcomb tell us we should do is so many degrees separated from what we can control, that we just show up, and we just do our thing, and if something comes down the pipeline, we’ll adjust.”

Forest Park High School junior Brice Austin, center, practices marching technique with the drumline at the school's first marching band practice of the season at the school in Ferdinand on Tuesday.

Northeast Dubois, the Jasper Marching Wildcats and the Southridge Marching Raider Band began rehearsing on Monday. The Forest Park Marching Rangers started practicing on Tuesday.

Leaders at all four area ensembles teamed up to create a return-to-practice plan approved by the Dubois County Health Department. Protocols being followed include splitting participants into small groups that practice independently, limiting the number of practices allowed each week, checking kids for COVID-19 symptoms and encouraging hand-washing and other sanitary measures.

Once an area for hangouts before and after practices, students are now told to avoid spending unnecessary time with their peers in band rooms. Directors are also prioritizing outdoor rehearsals.

“We definitely want to make sure that we’re doing everything possible that we can do to make sure that we can keep doing what we’re doing,” said Forest Park Director Eric Obermeyer.

Still, some county directors said that even with the changes in place, practices will largely run similarly to how they normally would at this time of the year. Sections are often broken apart in the early stages of show development, and rehearsals at some schools typically don’t ramp up until July.

“The one kind of nice thing about marching band is you kind of have built-in social distancing,” added Jasper High School Director Chad Gayso. “So, as we’re learning our drill, that kind of forces us to be [socially] distanced.”

Forest Park High School marching band members run a sprint at the band's first practice of the season at the school in Ferdinand on Tuesday.

Local band camps are set to take place the week of July 20. At that time, precautions will still be in place, but some of the restrictions the four bands are following are set to be modified.

While the future is dotted with unknowns — from travel-related concerns to whether and how the many non-ISSMA contests will be held — Lannie Butler, director of the Southridge Marching Raider Band, said kids had positive attitudes at his band’s first get-together since the coronavirus shut down schools in March.

“Students need to be a part of something,” Butler said. “And we’re fortunate right now that we’re able to do something. We’re hoping that it continues and things go forward.”

He continued: “But the bottom line is, hey, we want to be safe. Whatever we have to do, we’ll do.”

The Heritage Hills Marching Patriots will begin rehearsing on July 20.

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