Marching on: Hawkeye Marching Band freshmen continue to create memories and music during COVID-19

When Iowa’s football season was canceled on Aug. 11, the loss not only impacted the team, but also the Hawkeye Marching Band. Freshman band members have been tasked with adjusting to the transition to collegiate level band, along with COVID-19 restrictions.



Tatiana Plowman, Arts Reporter

When the Big Ten conference announced there wouldn’t be a fall 2020 football season, Hawkeye fans were devastated. Not only did the team lose out on September games, the Hawkeye Marching Band lost theirs as well. After this announcement, however, the band quickly shifted gears. The change has not suspended the marching band’s 140-year tradition of taking the field to play for its school.

After holding virtual auditions over the summer, the Hawkeye Marching Band welcomed a fresh crew of first-year members to its 260-member ranks. Since the beginning of the school year, the band has been practicing new music. This year, the upperclassmen taught the first-year members the traditional fight songs.

The band will release its recorded performances through what would have been the regularly scheduled fall football season, as part of a series titled “Virtual Game Days.” The band released pregame and halftime performance music on social media Sept. 12.

For freshman alto saxophone player Micah Williams, making it into the marching band was a dream come true. The online audition format may have had its challenges, Williams said, but nothing was going to stop her from reaching her goal.

“Once I saw the email [about making it into the marching band], I was so ecstatic,” Williams said. “I just couldn’t wait to start practicing and making new friends who love music as much as I do.”

Williams said the band’s freshmen were heartbroken when they found out the Hawkeye’s football season was waylaid, but they also weren’t surprised.

Williams said she was personally saddened that she may not get to learn the iconic high step across the field or have her first chance to play in front of 70,000 spectators. It was something all freshmen look forward to, she said, but she knows they will have opportunities to partake in such traditions in the future.

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Freshman clarinet player Megan Uden grew up in Coralville and has attended Iowa Hawkeye football games for as long as she can remember. She said she loves listening to the band’s pre-game performance, Uden said. Before coming to Iowa, she couldn’t wait for the day she would play on the football field.

“I will definitely miss our fall football season,” she said. “The marching band was one of the main reasons why I decided to come to Iowa. I really hope we can do an in-person performance somewhere, even if it isn’t at Kinnick just yet.”

Kenna Devore participated in color guard in high school, and recently switched to playing piccolo. The musician practiced online all summer leading up to auditions and was ecstatic to find out she was going to be playing with the band during the football games.

“It’s sad that all of my high-school friends are still having their marching season, and so are my friends at Iowa State,” Devore said. “I wish we still had ours but I respect the decision [because] it is keeping everyone safe.”

The Hawkeye Marching Band has made huge adaptations to its normal practices but is still committed to giving its members memories and opportunities, said sousaphone player Clayton Garmon. The band, which normally consists of 260 members, now practices in four smaller pep bands on alternating days.

Garmon expected the season to be different all-around, especially because of the unknown rehearsal and performance schedule. From the transition of high school to college band, Garmon said he could tell everyone wanted to be there.

“The band is such a great atmosphere despite all of the adaptations they’ve had to make,” Garmon said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the band is socially distanced outside and isn’t able to fully march in different formations. When students like Garmon take to the field for their rehearsal time, they’re expected to wipe down their instruments with disinfectant and wear instrument-specific masks that allow them to safely play.

When they’re not performing, players are required to wear an additional mask over their instrument-specific mask. Performers take daily surveys to track potential exposures to COVID-19.

The band’s sheet music has also gone paperless. When Williams arrives at rehearsal, she brings up her music on a Bluetooth-activated app called FlipFolder, which she props up on a stand on her saxophone. Hawkeye Marching Band Director Eric Bush can control each member’s phones to highlight specific measures and select the song.

Freshman baritone player Gillian Sprecher said she appreciates the chance to still practice with the band and create connections with her fellow band members. Without a football season, she felt sad to miss out on the traditions, knowing that it wouldn’t be the same experience. Sprecher said she’s truly loved what the band has done this season, however.

“I want to thank all of our TA’s, the work crew and Dr. Bush for letting us march this year,” Sprecher said. “Although it isn’t the same, this has been one of my favorite experiences.”