Bringing an end to a performance hiatus on the first Saturday of September, the University of Wisconsin Marching Band returned to the field at Camp Randall for the first time since the 2019 season to perform their traditional pregame and halftime field shows — a sorely missed staple of Badger football games.
In their halftime field show, the band proudly proclaimed “We’re back!” with a selection of songs intended to remind Badger fans they are here to stay, including “I’m Still Standing,” by Elton John and “Don’t Stop The Music,” by Rihanna.
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The show was also complemented by some signature pieces of choreography from the field performers, such as the cross tap and soft shoe marching steps.
The performance was the band’s first as a full 300-member ensemble in the more than 600 days since the group, along with other campus organizations, was forced to halt operations following a rise in COVID-19 cases in March 2020. The Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day 2020 in Pasadena, California was the last time the band performed at full capacity.
The band was not allowed to perform at football games in 2020 per a Big Ten order, and the band’s annual spring concert, an event that typically sees thousands of attendees, was canceled for two consecutive years in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The conditions forced the band to go virtual for most of their performances in 2020.
Following the first game day performance, UW Band Director Corey Pompey said he was elated to return to the field to do what he and his students love again.
“I have a feeling of gratitude,” Pompey said. “It’s not that I wasn’t grateful before because I was. The last year and a half or so has been extremely challenging on many different fronts. Leading this band is an incredible privilege and gift. The students in the band as well as the staff are elated to perform for the public again.”
Pompey said the adjustment from online rehearsal to in-person performances again took some getting used to, but he said it was ultimately a preferable alternative to carrying out band operations online.
“Certainly, returning to full band requires a lot of time and planning, however, it was a welcome change from what we went through a year ago,” Pompey said. “The return to a sense of normalcy makes things go smoother because we all know what that is supposed to be.”
The Sept. 4 game not only marked a return to in-person action for the marching band but the renewal of all the group offers for its members. Many returning sophomore members marched in their first show with the band — an experience many typically have prior to the end of their freshman year.
Sophomore trombone player Garrett Lowery said his first game day as a returning member was “pretty awesome” because he finally got see and experience what it meant to be a part of the band at full capacity.
“My freshman year, COVID didn’t really allow us to do much as a group, so most of what we did was just practicing technique and never actually seeing the results of what we were working toward, so to finally get to experience and see what everyone was so excited for … was really awesome,” Lowery said.
Returning to action proved to be a large adjustment for some members of the band who had never experienced a full season before COVID hit.
For members recruited in fall 2020, their introduction to the group consisted of one two-hour practice per week in small sectionals. The band traditionally hosts three rehearsals a day in August with the full ensemble, which was an exciting and daunting effort for younger members this year.
“It’s crazy just how different the atmosphere is having [the full band at practice] instead of just a team of leadership,” sophomore trombone player Jake Peterson said. “There’s just a lot more people around you to push you to work harder.”
While the challenges of the pandemic continue to linger, Badger fans can take solace in the fact that along with Saturday game days, the band too is back and better than ever.