Marching Wildcats make modified season meaningful

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jasper High School sophomore Cassie Merrimon, center, plays the flute during marching band rehearsal at the school on Thursday. Cassie said she enjoys the marching band competitions most of all, but is still enjoying this year without the competitions. "I'm grateful that we still get to perform," she said.


Jackson Clark sees it as a shift in mentality.

Competition is in the Jasper Marching Wildcats’ DNA. But in a year without Indiana State School Music Association contests, members have moved their focus away from their annual end-of-season goals and to the band’s long-term future.

“My section, and I’m assuming every other section, is taking this year as a learning point for next year,” said Jackson, a junior who plays the baritone. “We’re taking this as a learning point for next year’s real season. Assuming that we will have one.”

COVID-19 prompted the cancellation of the ISSMA’s competitive circuit in July. But that doesn’t mean the Jasper band is writing off its 2020 season.

Instead of marching away with trophies at invitationals, the band has been perfecting a football halftime show that lifts material from “S&M” — a live music album that features the collaborative sounds of rock band Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony.

“So when I say Metallica, it’s not like pep band, basketball pep band kind of Metallica,” explained Chad Gayso, the band’s director. “It’s been arranged for marching band, and it sounds more symphonic, and more like a traditional marching band show. But it still has that edge of being different, and lends a little more to, like a football crowd.”

Jasper High School senior color guard member Hannah Rasche rehearses at marching band practice at the school on Thursday.

Made up of about 135 members, the perennially powerful Marching Wildcats are using that music to prioritize development. They do that every year, of course — but this year, performers like Jackson are placing an emphasis on bringing the band’s younger members up to speed.

“I’ve taken pride in being an upperclassman and being able to help teach the younger ones,” he said. “I’ve kind of switched mentalities [from] competition, let’s go … get better every weekend, to, how can I help my freshman kids be better? And how can they learn for next year? And how can they become the teacher that I am? It’s really fun. I’m really enjoying it.”

The last time the Marching Wildcats were denied a trip to the annual ISSMA finals contest was in 1989, and because of the circuit cancellation, this year’s senior class will be the first to miss out on the event in more than three decades.

“They’re the first group in 32 years that is not going to get to do that,” said John Coller, the band’s percussion director. “And you could’ve thought that these kids would just say, ‘Well, [to] heck with this, I’m done.’ ”

He continued: “But they kept working really hard, and I think it just shows what kind of leaders there are. That they’re going to make sure the younger kids still see what they’re doing and follow them. And it’s just going to make the band better in years to come than what it would have been had we just shut down or had those kids shut down.”

Gayso explained that the band has already begun cleaning and fine-tuning the roughly four-and-a-half minute show — far ahead of where the band would be during a normal season. He said that “the students have been awesome the way they have just kind of rolled with the punches, and the way they have been able to adapt and change.”

Jasper High School freshman Thomas Polen, second from right, practices during marching band rehearsal at the school on Thursday.

Because there are no trophies to be won this season, band members have been challenged to think about why they perform, Gayso said. He is impressed with how the kids have found ways to continue to motivate themselves.

The decorated director has long preached to his students the importance of honing in on making memories and having fun while performing well.

“Looking back on it, I really don’t think this is going to affect the program in a negative way,” Gayso said of the modified marching season. “I think if anything, it’s kind of brought everybody together and made everything stronger.”

He continued: “It forces you to perform for the right reasons. Which is just being as good as you can be and enjoying the people you’re around.”

The band will perform at tonight’s Jasper-Evansville Bosse football game, which is set to begin at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium at 7:30 p.m. It will also play in a non-competitive showcase at Evansville Central High School on Saturday.

Gayso noted he would like for students to play the music that was set to be in the Marching Wildcats’ originally planned competitive show — which was shelved after the announcement of the ISSMA season’s cancellation — at a performance in the next month or so.

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