Spirit of Madison Band perseveres despite disappointments

THE SPIRIT OF MADISON will take to Trojan Field on Saturday night to present their field show, "The Show Must Go On." The performance will begin at 8 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.

The show must go on.

If there's anything the Spirit of Madison marching band has learned in the past year, it's that simple -- and yet not so simple to live -- lesson. This fall, band members are taking that lesson to the field with their half-time show and with their performance on Saturday night.

The Madison High School marching band will present the annual Under the Lights performance at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Trojan Field. The event is open to the public. Masks are recommended but not required.

"It's a great way to experience a piece of normalcy," said MHS band director Nicole Decker.

She explained that both home and visitors bleachers will be open so that those who attend can maintain appropriate social distancing. If people would prefer, they can also bring lawn chairs and sit on the track.

Decker is hoping the community will show up to support the high school students whose year is being adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before school started, band members knew this year was going to be different.

A community outbreak in July, which included some high school students, radically altered their summer band camp. Instead of meeting for two weeks from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the band rehearsed from 9 a.m. to noon for four days.

Despite the limited opportunity to prepare their field show, the students came with a positive attitude and a willingness to work. In part, that was due to the unprecedented way in which their spring semester ended -- no classes, no band, no concerts, no opportunity to showcase their musical talents.

"They were thrilled to be doing things together," observed Susan Wicks, whose son Ronan is a band member.

However, their attitude also reflected a willingness to adapt to the limitations of the situation. In the past, the band has worked to prepare for marching band competitions around the area. This year, half of the competitions were canceled and the others were adapted to limit the spread of COVID-19.

"I made the decision early on not to attend," Decker said.

The decision was not an easy one for her to make, and she wasn't sure how the students would respond to the news. However, they have impressed her with their attitude.

"I think they're a little heartbroken, but they're still willing to put in the effort. They are still willing to work," she indicated.

She knows those who have competed in the past -- the sophomores, juniors and seniors -- would be willing to take the risk of competing, if she would let them. But they are motivated even without the excitement of those band trips.

"They still want to make music together," Decker explained.

Fortunately, the band will still receive the feedback a competition provides. One of the regional band competitions -- March to the Meridian in Yankton -- has decided to approach the challenge posed by the pandemic by hosting a virtual event this year.

"Typically, we aren't able to go," Decker said, citing scheduling conflicts.

This year, the band's schedule is not an issue and they will participate. Decker plans to submit parade and field show recordings of the Spirit of Madison. She also plans to submit a parade recording of the middle school band.

The band's field show -- "The Show Must Go On" -- draws from the 2017 musical, "The Greatest Showman." Using arrangements designed for pep bands, the show opens with "The Greatest Show." This is followed by a medley including "Never Enough" and "From Now On." The show ends with "This is Me."

"It's going to be a fun and uplifting pop show," Decker said.

The show will differ from recent years in two immediately apparent ways. This year, the band is not wearing uniforms and the show does not include props.

Band members -- with the exception of the drum majors, who wear sequined red jackets and black dress pants -- are wearing show shirts and jeans. This year, 78 students are participating. Decker reported losing several band members because families decided to homeschool their children.

In talking about the performance on Saturday night, Decker noted that for the second year in a row, people are being asked to come out despite the personal challenges they face. Last year, community members were dealing with widespread flooding. This year, they are dealing with the pandemic.

She identified two reasons for making the effort. First, she said, the kids need the support.

"If the community comes to support them, they'll see music is more than what the judges think," Decker indicated.

The second reason that folks should show up is that they will benefit from getting out and hearing the young people perform.

"There's so many elements of music that can heal you," she said.