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Local Marching Bands Brace for Summer of Uncertainty

By Jared Redding
Journalism Student

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, so has the possible time frame for when things might return to normalcy, especially when it comes to fall activities.

The University of Mississippi has shut down all in-person activities until August, and with many high school activities currently in limbo, marching bands are facing a lot of questions before football season.

“A far as our end goes, we’re still doing the planning stages for our shows and trying to move forward as if everything is going to happen,” Lafayette High School band director Kelly Duncan said. “As far as our administration goes, our AD, nobody has said for a fact that anything is going to happen as normal. I know that our campus is going to be closed for a while. I don’t know exactly when everything’s going to get started back.”

Along with the fallout comes financial issues. On April 15, the Mississippi High School Activities Association made the decision to cancel all activity until June 1, including band. Whether the remaining expenses for cancelled spring sports will be relocated in favor of band is to be determined.

“You have financial concerns because with all this downtime people have had, taxes are going down, too. Therefore, the money going in will go down,” Oxford High School band director Mel Morse said. “I think everyone will have to react to that in their own way and think of ways to do what they’ve done and do it at a level that doesn’t require as much money and finance.”

July is typically the time local high school marching bands take part in band camp—a two to three week period where groundwork is laid for the upcoming football season.

“It’s going to be bad just because that time really is crucial,” OHS senior Jay Wenger said. “Once school hits, it’s like a roller coaster with school work. Summer is really the only time you get to focus on marching for two to three weeks. Hopefully it’s not gone, but if it is, we’re going to have to pick things up a lot.”

They may not be the only marching band in Oxford to be directly hit.

Wenger will be attending the University of Mississippi in the fall and taking part in The Pride of the South marching band as a trumpet player. Not only will he face new and tougher challenges on the college level, but should the pandemic start affecting college plans, those issues could be amplified.

“They switch the halftime show every football game, so every week they’re scrambling around—and do a good job of it—to get it all done,” Wenger said. “If football does get affected, that affects us too. If football goes, we go as well. It’ll be more of a ‘do what you can on your own’ thing. When it comes to marching, there’s not much you can do by yourself.”

UM freshman Mary Katherine Bishop is a current member of The Pride of the South marching band. She knows the transition all too well.

“The best way I can describe that adjustment is weird. The first thing I thought when the entire band was together was ‘wow, everyone is better than me,’” Bishop said. “But that’s not really the case, it’s more like everyone is talented.”

She also believes that, based on speculation, if football season could be delayed or altered it could be beneficial to people like Wenger.

“I think having a delayed football start would help with the adjustment 100 percent,” Bishop said. “It’d give incoming freshmen more time to learn the music and adjust to playing in a larger band, as well as more practice with the show.”

Whether or not the week-long band camp is cut short or cancelled, Bishop is also concerned about the well-being and chemistry of the band.

“I think it would be possible for each member to memorize the music during summer if we were given it; however, without band camp, we’d essentially be going into it blind. We’d have no idea how it’ll sound with others, how to march, or anything about the show which is the primary focus of marching band,” Bishop said.

Whatever has to be done, Wenger believes that he is up for a new challenge.

“There’s a level of excellence we’re supposed to perform to when we sign that contract or scholarship. We’re saying that you can trust us that we’ll do whatever is necessary to help our band be productive in this time,” Wenger said. “We have a standard to uphold, being a part of The Pride of the South.”

Morse is also one to know that he can control only what he can control.

“I’m not the shot caller, but I hope I’m at least part of the conversation,” Morse said. “At this point, all I really need to how is how much money I can spend and how much time I’ll have to educate my students. If I get those questions answered rather quickly, I can move forward, regardless of what that looks like.”

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