Tupelo • The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that local marching bands will not have a traditional season, with bands now shifting their focus to safety and producing a crowd-pleasing show.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association Executive Committee approved a proposal to cancel Regional Marching Band Evaluations and State Marching Band Evaluations for fall 2020, per the Mississippi Bandmasters Association’s (MBA) recommendation.
Marching band performances before, during and after high school football games will be permitted with approval of local school districts, and summer band practices have been allowed to continue until the start of the school year.
Ripley High School’s marching band held its annual band camp July 13-23, focusing on the fundamentals of music and marching.
Ripley band director Bernard Hatch and his staff decided to table the show they had planned in lieu of a simpler performance that will be geared towards the fans.
This year’s show, Summertime Blues, was chosen by the RHS Band’s seniors and will feature a song from each of the shows they performed during their freshman, sophomore and junior years.
“We will still go on the field and perform, but we won’t be doing the pageantry and all of that we usually do,” Hatch said, adding that there will be “a very limited amount of movement, just mostly playing.”
Within the band hall, students are required to wear masks while not playing their instruments, seats are spaced six feet apart and different sections of the band – brass, woodwinds, percussion and front ensemble – practice in separate areas.
“We have not been able to come together as a band to play anything this year because there’s just no space to do that,” Hatch said.
The entire 115-member band likely won’t rehearse together until after school starts back for South Tippah School District on August 5, and even then it will have to be outdoors.
Chris Doss, RHS senior and drummer in the band, said that since his freshman year there’s typically been a lot of excitement surrounding the marching season.
“Thanks to COVID, it’s like all of the hype is gone,” Doss said. “We won’t be doing competitions that we always look forward to.”
But “it’s still fun as long as we play,” Doss added.
Tupelo High School held summer rehearsals for freshmen beginning this week, but the entire 170-member band won’t come together until August 4.
Rick Murphy, who has worked as a band director for 41 years and spent the past five as Director of Bands at Tupelo, said he and his staff are “treating this as if it’s a normal season” although some changes must be made due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we do drastically different things for this class, it will effect next year’s band and years after that,” Murphy said. “So we have to be very careful with this ninth grade class that they receive everything that everybody else has just to continue the tradition of The Long Blue Line.”
This year’s marching show was not designed for competition, but will be all Elvis music which is fitting for Tupelo.
“That’s probably something that we could not do in a normal year with the aspect of judging that typically would go on,” Murphy said. “The actual movement will be much different because everybody must stay six feet apart.”
Learning and performing the show will be easier and require less rehearsal time but will be just as effective for entertaining crowds at football games.
On Tuesday morning, new members of the THS marching band learned marching fundamentals in a parking lot outside near the band hall.
Emily Cannon, a THS senior and the band’s head drum major, was there to help instruct the younger students and said that while this year’s experience will be different, she’s looking forward it.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” Cannon said. “It’s going to be more laid back, so it’s not going to be as stressful but I think it’s going to be a good experience for everybody in band this year.”
The Tupelo Band typically hosts the MHSAA Region I Marching Band competition each year, but will not be able to in 2020 due to MHSAA and MBA’s decision.
Among the MBA’s concerns that led to canceling competitions were: having adequate practice time with class schedules likely in flux due to COVID-19 policies for schools, significant logistical challenges under COVID-19 guidelines in hosting events that traditionally bring dozens of participating schools to a single site and a lack of spring and summer opportunities for fundraising, a major part of supporting and sustaining band activities for an upcoming school year.
Josh Forsythe, band director at Booneville High School, said the goal for his 92-member marching band this year will be to “make sure we enjoy the process of learning.”
Booneville’s band camp over the past two weeks has consisted of outside practice from 8 a.m.-noon.
He said it’s easy to get lost in being competitive, so he’s hoping the band can “really focus on having a good time and being really good at what we do.”
Booneville School District was originally set to reopen with a traditional in-person schedule on August 5, but will now switch to a virtual learning model through Labor Day, citing a recent spike on COVID-19 cases.
Virtual-only students will still show up for band rehearsals, but the tentative plan is to hold them outside to allow for social distancing.
Forsythe said that although state competitions have been canceled, fans will see a marching show with drill that is very similar to what they’ve seen in previous years. Booneville’s show will also feature Elvis songs.
“I think the one thing that helps us with that is we never talk about going and winning trophies,” Forsythe said. “We always talk about doing the best you can every day. With the students, what we’ve really pushed is, we’re going to do the same thing that we’ve done, we’re going to push and be the best we can be and we’re just going to do it a different way.”
Booneville currently plans to perform at home football games and consider whether to attend away games on a case-by-case basis.