An early-morning crescendo of horns, wafting from Cook Pavilion and across 14th Street, is signaling the return of another fall tradition at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Through quick adjustments made by faculty leaders in the spring and summer, the Cornhusker Marching Band (which is actually a course offered in the Glenn Korff School of Music) is practicing daily and preparing for at least one performance this fall.
“We have some amazing leaders who worked hard to make sure we had this opportunity this fall,” said Sydney McGahan, a drum major and senior music education major. “It’s something I hoped for and looked forward to after classes went remote in the spring.
“While it’s not an entirely normal season, being out here, mostly together, is a bit of normalcy that we all needed during this stressful time.”
The band program’s pivots started with holding first-round auditions in the spring and early summer via video submission.
“Of course, due to COVID-19, we couldn’t safely hold in-person auditions like we normally would,” said Tony Falcone, associate director of bands and a senior lecturer. “So, we had students send in recordings, combed through them and made our first-round selections that way.”
That first-round would become the roster for the 2020 season as plans for a second audition at the start of band camp were scrapped due to pandemic-related changes to the university’s fall semester calendar.
The annual camp was replaced with a virtual program that ran through the summer. During that time, student leaders connected with and guided bandmates via Zoom and other video conferencing platforms.
“We still didn’t know what the season would hold, so the focus was on fundamentals, materials that would be needed no matter what,” Falcone said. “Our plan was to cover everything that was necessary to keep us moving forward — even if the university shut down and we all had to stay home.”
As students prepared online, Falcone and other faculty leaders instituted health-related protocols — doubling spacing between band members on the field, requiring the use of cloth covers on all wind instruments and facial coverings where possible, a daily rehearsal schedule that includes no more than two-thirds of the band in Cook Pavilion at one time, and making sure hand sanitizer would be available if needed.
Along with following all federal, state and local health protocols, the band is also adjusting procedures based on findings in a targeted research study being conducted at the University of Colorado, University of Maryland and Colorado State University.
“The studies are looking specifically at how the virus is spread in the performing arts,” Falcone said. “As findings are released from those studies, we adapt our protocols.
“We’re doing everything we can to protect our students, faculty and staff from this virus.”
In a normal season, the band would perform at least seven distinct halftime shows during home Husker football games, along with preparing for the pre-game celebration (which is the same each week). Due to the university’s condensed fall semester and what was a canceled football season, the band is preparing to field one big show with four new songs this season.
“Normally, we would be learning 30-some songs over a year and having only a week to get ready for each show,” McGahan said. “It’s a little weird, but it’s also good, and a lot less stressful.”
While band leaders do not know if they’ll be called upon to be a part of the Huskers’ recently-restarted football campaign, they are planning to stage the show on a field at least once. The performance will be recorded and made available to the public to watch. Details will be announced when finalized.
“As a program, we’ve always worked to be flexible, exploring ways to take advantage of any situation, rather than being stuck doing things the old way,” Falcone said. “It allows us to find the positives in every situation — including during a global pandemic.”