Wednesday, September 30, 2020
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The fall without marching band

The fall of 2020 will be essentially devoid of marching band performances, festivals, and competitions, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Music for All, the Indianapolis-based nonprofit that runs the Bands of America competitions, announced earlier this month that none of its competitions would be conducted this fall. This would have been the organization’s 45th year of bringing “positive, life-changing experiences” to thousands of students.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also cancelled its 50th annual Illinois Marching Band Championships this fall.

“We feel it would be irresponsible for [the university] to host two events that simply do not abide or adhere to the latest guidelines provided by the [Illinois State Board of Education] or the [Illinois Board of Higher Education],” university faculty and staff posted on the university website. “None of us as music educators should bear the burden of being partially responsible for any of our students, parents, or other community members being impacted by this virus, directly or indirectly. It’s simply not worth it.

“As you can imagine, this decision is devastating to us on so many fronts, but it is the right one for this season. We Will Return.”

In June, the Virginia Marching Band Cooperative cancelled its championships for this fall, and in July, the organization went further to say VMBC “will not be promoting or sanctioning any local, regional, or state competitions for the 2020-2021 school year. This does not preclude local bands from competing or hosting their own band contest; it simply will not be sanctioned by the VMBC this year.”

In Illinois, many schools have followed the same planning path as the University of Illinois and other marching band organizations across the nation in cancelling their school-based festivals this year.

Playing of a musical instrument or singing in a chorus simply increases the risk of spreading the coronavirus to others through the transmission of droplets, which carry the virus from an infected person to a person nearby.

“Indoor rehearsals are discouraged. Consider moving music and band-related courses outside,” the Illinois State Board of Education advised on its website for Phase 4 of school reopening. Officials recommend conducting smaller or sectional rehearsals and using partitions to keep droplets from flying across the room as well as markings on the floor or practice field to inform students about social distancing.

Going further, officials advise students to clean and sanitize instruments between uses and wear a face mask whenever possible (piano, drums, violin, etc.). Music education merchant organizations advise using plastic instead of cane reeds (clarinet, oboe, bassoon). And conductors are “encouraged” to wear goggles and stand behind a plexiglass shield and, if that’s not possible, to remain at least 10 feet in front of the first row of musicians.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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