Marching bands improvise after canceled events

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Forest Park High School senior Leah Wilmes cries as she looks toward the crowd during the ISSMA state marching band finals awards ceremony at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis late last year. The Marching Rangers placed second in Class D.


It wasn’t unexpected. But it still hurts.

Wednesday afternoon, the Indiana State School Music Association dispatched emails to marching band directors across the state that delivered the news: The statewide organization’s marching band events will not be held in 2020 — meaning no regional, semistate or state finals contests will be held this fall.

Band leadership still has options for how they can approach the near future. Friday, three local band directors shared their reactions and plans moving forward.

Eric Obermeyer, director of the Forest Park Marching Rangers, was given a head’s up before he received the email. Even before that, his band had been practicing “knowing that something like this could and probably would happen,” he said.

“But that didn’t make it any easier to hear the final news,” he continued.

According to the Indianapolis Star, with the ISSMA events canceled, it will be up to individual schools and school districts to decide if they’ll go forward with school-hosted invitationals or football marching band programs.

Obermeyer explained that the Marching Rangers will shelve the competitive show they were hoping to debut this season, and will instead create a new one that is intended to be performed at those invitationals and during halftimes at football games. Students will select the songs.

“It’s going to be really relaxed and chill,” Obermeyer said. “But these kids need marching band for multiple reasons.”

He continued: “And as long as we can maintain the safety aspect, keeping [socially] distant and all the masks and all that kind of stuff ... having marching band ... it saves lives just as much as staying home does. Because these kids, they need to get out. They need to have interactions, and a lot of kids depend on band to have a life. And so we want to provide that opportunity as much as we possibly can, while keeping it within the safety parameters.”

The Heritage Hills Marching Patriots were set to return to the ISSMA circuit in 2020. The band was going to join the Scholastic division, but after receiving word of the cancellation, the group’s scope was modified.

“To say that we’re heartbroken would be an understatement because we’ve worked really hard the past few years,” Keith Dossett, the band’s director, said of him and his wife, Katie, who leads the school’s color guard program. “And these kids have really busted their butts, too, to kind of get Heritage Hills’ band back up off its feet.”

Their 2020 show will be held until next year, too. The school will field a non-competitive marching band this season that performs together and at football games.

“Our theme for this year for our band and our staff is that we want this to be a positive experience for everybody,” Dossett said. “I want these kids to come back. And even though we’re doing a football halftime show, non-competitive thing, we still want it to be fun. We still want it to be worthwhile and engaging for these kids.”

The Jasper Marching Wildcats are also shifting gears and approaching the season with halftime shows in mind. Director Chad Gayso doesn’t believe competitions will be an option for any band this year, saying, “from what I’m hearing, local competitions, I’m hearing that that’s not really going to be much of an option this year, from other schools.”

Still, Gayso said he has been impressed with how his marchers took the news. Of course, they were all disappointed when they first learned of the ISSMA season’s demise. But they’re making the best of the circumstances.

He knows that trophies and competitions are great motivators.

“But really it’s just about making music, and performing, and being together and doing the best we can,” Gayso said.

Northeast Dubois Marching Jeeps Director David Fox and Southridge Marching Raider Band Director Lannie Butler did not return calls by press time today.

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