Metro Marching Bands Play On Despite COVID-19 Restrictions

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URBANDALE, Iowa — As students head back to the classroom this fall, after-school activities are returning as well. Marching band is one of the activities that is finding a way to still play on despite many competitions and performances being cancelled.

“After having almost six months off and so many online virtual lessons and meetings, just getting everyone back on the field creating music together has been wonderful,” Director of Urbandale Bands, Louis Dupuis said.

From the sounds of it, marching band is back how it once was, together again on the field, but taking a closer look, it’s clear this is far from normal.

“The world is so crazy, so when I heard marching band probably won’t have marching it was like, ‘ok, that’s just how it’s going to be,'” Urbandale senior Kenji Bachmann said.

Making different formations and pictures on the field is no longer an option for the Urbandale Marching Band.

“We plan to perform mostly in place, just to help keep things spaced and safe for our students,” Dupuis said.

“Obviously I was a little disappointed. Marching is fun, for me at least, but I knew that would give us more time to focus on each other and the music which is super important, especially right now,” Urbandale senior Grace Pearson said.

Music that hopefully people get to hear. The J-Hawks aren’t able to perform at halftime of football games this year to help keep fan attendance down.

“We are going to create band nights here in the stadium [instead] when there aren’t any other events going on,” Dupuis said.

Over in Ankeny, the district has decided to let their marching band still perform on Friday nights.

“We kind of need to have a face in the community and performing at the football games for halftime is where people that aren’t band parents get to hear us. I think for our students, that’s important too,” Ankeny Band Director Joel Poppen said

Of course there’s extra mitigation strategies in place to make this all happen. At both Ankeny and Urbandale masks are worn as much as possible. In Ankeny, they are also using bell coverings on their brass instruments.

According to the Iowa High School Music Association (IHSMA), bell covers are highly recommended as “masks” for the instruments. Bell covers are made of multi-layered high denier nylon material and provide a barrier for aerosols.

“The six-foot distancing, plus the covers, plus the masks, we’re doing as much as we can to minimize basically the growing concentration of the aerosols,” Poppen said.

It is IHSMA’s belief that with proper strategic planning, it can be safe to hold rehearsals and home performances.

In a press release by the IHSMA, they say with proper strategic planning and these safety mitigation it can be safe to hold rehearsals and home performances. However, marching band festivals pose a different challenge regarding student, teacher, and volunteer staff safety.  That’s why the Executive Committee of the IHSMA is canceling the traditional IHSMA State Marching Band Festival and has instructed the Executive Director to explore options for providing an online festival experience for those bands wishing to participate. 

A tough reality for seniors like Urbandale’s Bachmann and Pearson, but one that they still are grateful for.

“I’m thankful that we get to do music at all because music means a lot to a lot of people here,” Bachmann said.

“Especially for our senior year, I know it’s going to be a crazy one. It’s going to be a different one, but I’m excited that we just have people who are willing to try and make it work because it’s a miracle that we’re even here,” Pearson said.

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