HANCOCK COUNTY — Elizabeth Walden said her fellow Greenfield-Central marching band members are more than just friends. They’re family.
Performing together is not just a pastime, but a passion.
That’s why she was especially heartbroken after hearing the Indiana State School Music Association canceled this year’s high school marching band events as a precaution against COVID-19.
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That means her school’s Cougar Pride Marching Band will retain its title as the reigning Class B state champions for another year, but certainly not in the way anyone wanted to.
Nearly 200 schools participate in ISSMA marching band events each fall. That adds up to a lot of disappointed band directors and band members, especially seniors who are missing their last shot to take the field with their bandmates.
Walden, a senior, said she’s sad knowing she’ll miss out on a number of cherished traditions, like when seniors are recognized at the semi-state competition on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Yet she and her bandmates will persevere, she said.
“We’re still a marching band, whether we compete or not. We have a plan laid out for a different approach we’re taking this year. We have stuff that we’re working on, and I’m really excited to see how it works out,” said Walden, 17, who started playing alto sax in the eighth grade.
Band director Chris Wing couldn’t yet share what those altered plans would entail, but he said his students will find a way to make the most of the season.
“Our bands don’t exist to compete. We exist to teach kids through music and the performing arts. We’ll continue to do that, even in the absence of marching competitions. We will continue to teach them skills that transcend playing an instrument or being a member of our color guard,” he said.
As a member of the ISSMA board of directors, Wing took part in the discussions leading to the canceled season. The decision was made in mid-July.
“While disappointing, it was the correct decision based on our current situation,” he said. “We all love to compete and perform. But we can never put the safety of students, spectators and event workers aside to do those things.”
Wing said his band members are mature in the way they handle adversity. After hearing the season was canceled, all but three of 160 students chose to stick with the program. “I think that speaks to their desire to work and be a part of a group,” he said.
Walden has been marching with the school’s band since she was a freshman, building friendships that transcend any others she’s made in high school.
“In high school you make a lot of friends, but these people I march with are more like family to me. We’ve gotten so close to each other, and we know each other so well. It’s just one huge family. It’s the most amazing thing I could have ever asked for in my entire life,” said Walden, who plans to study music education in college next year.
Jon Carney, New Palestine High School’s band director, said his students are also tight-knit and resilient. They are determined to make the most of the year.
“My students were disappointed, absolutely, but many of them are reaching out to find out ways to stay active,” he said.
Some of the school’s color guard students have plans to keep working and have approached Carney about the possibility of starting a club during the fall semester, while the band’s wind and percussion students carried on with an in-school music camp over the summer.
“I can’t speak for anyone outside our district, but I know that in New Palestine we will continue to make music every day,” said Carney, who still plans to direct the school’s concert bands each school day and will start leading the Jazz ensemble daily in October.
The show must go on, he said. “We’ll be searching out ways to make music in and around our schools and community in order to give our students opportunities to perform.”
Mt. Vernon High School’s band director, Jackie Nason, feels the same way. She looks forward to leading her kids in whatever type of performances they’re able to carry out this year.
“Whether it will be a Friday night football game or community performance, we look forward to the opportunities to provide support to the Mt. Vernon community while also keeping everyone safe. I believe we will come out of this stronger than before,” she said.