Editor’s Note: On October 10, many people saw their first live marching band performance this school year when Bands of America set up a live feed from three states around the country. One of the bands was from Paragould High School in Paragould, Arkansas, which performed at the Power Band Classic Invitational at Lake Hamilton High School in Pearcy. Voxitatis covered the live feed, but in addition, we asked Richie Williams, a director at Paragould, to let one of his students write about this most unusual year for the marching arts. We are extremely pleased to present this essay, written by Rebecca Morgan, a senior drum major for the Paragould High School PRIDE Marching Band.
MARCHING BAND has always been a safe haven for me in every way, as it is for many other people. For me, I always adored the performance aspect of this art. Performing for thousands of people in large stadiums—from The Dome at America’s Center in St Louis, Missouri, to the Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to my very own Ram Stadium right here in Paragould, Arkansas—is absolutely exhilarating. The feeling of touching people’s hearts with our performance and even competing with well-known band programs from around the nation is like nothing else I’ve ever felt.
I commenced the 2020 season auditioning for the top student leadership position in my program back in January. Being a drum major was always a thought in the back of my mind that I never genuinely circumvented until it came to my senior year and I soon realized this was my last chance to fulfill my dreams. I had always had premonitions of the announcer calling my name alongside my band’s name, as I turned around to give my salute. I was awarded the opportunity to lead my band, as many others had done before me.
However, the dubiousness of getting to perform again sat on our shoulders as the United States began to battle the Covid-19 pandemic in March. We all worked so strenuously just for our season to possibly be taken away like that.
For thousands of bands around the country, it, indeed, was taken away. But, thanks to our astonishing directors and staff, who fought day in and day out for us, we get to have a marching season. I am extremely privileged and proud to have the administration that we have here at Paragould for giving us the opportunity to perform just one last time. I know people from different bands in different areas of the country; I’ve listened to many of their stories and how distraught they are with how their seasons turned out. All they wish for is what I’m fortunate enough to experience currently. I perform for those who will never get the privilege of performing again.
Our competitive show this season is entitled, “Alpha.” Alpha is an exploration of the ascendance and power associated with wolves in the Arctic. In a wolf pack, you have to be strong, determined, brave, and valiant. Not ironically, that is precisely what we had to be as the season progressed and we questioned if we would get to perform this show. We went in headstrong and ready to subjugate anything that tried to tear us apart. This show makes me especially emotional because of everything we’ve gone through to get to this point: countless hours of rehearsal, consecutive days of rain, and up to 20 students quarantined at one time.
There were many days that outdoor rehearsals were moved indoors due to the rain from the numerous hurricanes that wreaked havoc on our grass practice field and made us unable to go outside. We didn’t let Covid-19 stop us, and we sure weren’t going to let some downpours keep us from making music.
Music rehearsals in the band room have always been my favorite; however, this year, we had some obstacles. Students had to wear a mask while playing, and we additionally couldn’t be in a room for more than 30 minutes before we had to move locations. This made it especially difficult to get a good full band music rehearsal in while indoors.
We were very privileged to have our show designers at a few rehearsals to help our show come to life. Having all of our writers in all at once, writing new drill right on the spot, integrating style to the music, learning new visuals, as well as the new learning environment and different personalities was definitely a challenge. But it was a challenge we all needed as a competitive group.
Although this year was quite different and there were a plethora of changes, we still rehearsed as usual (aside from the few extra rehearsals to get students caught up who missed two weeks). We still practiced during the summer every weekday, practiced Tuesday through Friday after school, with a performance to end that week on Friday and a competition on Saturday. This is an all-too-familiar schedule for our program, and I’m profoundly thankful for that aspect that didn’t change throughout the pandemic. It’s relieving and comforting knowing I can still practice normally and create musical art with my peers who love this activity as much as I do.
My fellow band members and I owe our administration and staff a huge thanks for pushing to provide us with this opportunity. I know the concept of having any type of competition, let alone a state championship, sat heavily on many directors’ minds across the state. The risk of exposing students and supporters to the virus was something talked about in every meeting. Thankfully, the idea of having a formal state championship in Little Rock was pushed and approved. Our amazing superintendent, Mrs Debbie Smith, has always been our band’s biggest supporter, and I feel as if we wouldn’t be having a state championship, or even a competitive season, if it weren’t for her determination and veneration for her students.
Because of such a skeptical and unorthodox time, it really makes me appreciate and realize how absolutely privileged I am to perform and compete with my band, as many others aren’t able to do. It makes performing so much more special because I know there’s someone out there watching us and wishing they could be in our shoes and on that field one last time. It’s a disconsolate time for musicians right now, but I’m forever grateful that I get to finish out my senior year doing what I love: making music and making memories for years to come.