‘What I know about band people is that they’re resilient:’ Hawkeye Marching Band holds online auditions for the 2020-2021 season

The Hawkeye Marching Band modified their auditions to virtual format, overcoming challenges and discovering positive outcomes in the process.


Katina Zentz

The Hawkeye Marching Band prepares to walk in the during the Thursday, December 26, 2019. Members of the community and fans gathered to watch the floats and performances by bands from Iowa and around the area.

Marissa Smith, News Reporter

The Voxman Music Building would normally flood with a symphony of drummers tapping, flutes humming, and trumpets sounding of potential incoming students and potential Hawkeye Marching Band members prepared to secure their spot in the organization during summer orientation.

This summer, however, the building will remain silent as the Hawkeye Marching Band holds its auditions online for the first time in its 140 years of existence.

Prospective brass and woodwind students will register to audition and send in a video audition following a specific protocol by June 30, said Eric Bush, associate director of bands and director of the Hawkeye Marching Band.

Students hoping to join the Hawkeye Drumline are attending virtual clinics via Zoom in order to prepare for auditions, as well as joining a closed Facebook group to give and receive feedback, Bush said. The Hawkeye Drumline has not yet moved its auditions to virtual format, he said.

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“Our students are our top priority always,” said Tammie Walker, director of the school of music and professor of piano at the UI.

In order to make this change possible, marching band administrators coordinated with UI Orientation Services, UI Admissions, and utilized social media to get the word out, Bush said, in addition to altering its website.

For the Hawkeye Marching Band, Bush said, creating a family within its ensemble is a top priority throughout online auditions.

“We’ve been telling all the students that the biggest thing right now is that we want to get the best qualified people in the Hawkeye Marching Band through these auditions and get them to be part of the family,” Bush said.

For Mitchell Baccam, a second-year music major on the pre-dental track and clarinet player in the band, the Hawkeye Marching Band has become his second family.

“One of my favorite things is how so many of my friends became my family,” Baccam said.

Bush said that video submissions make it harder to have strong social interactions and create that strong family bond early, compared to in person auditions, but the band is working hard to get new members into its family and ingrained into who its members are right away.

Walker said that it can be hard to assess the true tone of a player through a video, creating a challenge in adjudicating virtual auditions.

“Virtual or recorded auctions can’t capture the nuances of someone playing and their tone,” Walker said. “There’s no substitute for live performance.”

Additional challenges of virtual auditions include technical difficulties, recording quality, and access to instruments, Bush said.

Bush said the biggest challenge for performing arts students and faculty right now, however, is the lack of personal collaboration.

“Everything that we do is based on human interaction. We strive and thrive on spontaneous music making or making of art,” Bush said. “You can’t replicate that in an online form.”

Members of the marching band plan to gain new skills through online auditions and hope to utilize these skills in the future, Bush said, opening their auditions to a wider clientele of students.

Bush said they’re even finding ways to stay connected from home; the band, along with some UI faculty and the Hawkeye Spirit Squads, are working on a virtual Iowa Fight Song project to remind the Hawkeye community that everyone is still a community, together as one.

As for the future, Bush said the Hawkeye Marching Band will continue to exist no matter the circumstances.

“We’re gonna exist somehow, even in the wildest scenario,” Bush said. “We’re still gonna be one family. What I know about band people is that they’re resilient.”

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