The boisterous trumpets and bellowing drums echo up the sides of Memorial Stadium, reaching far beyond its walls and into the city of Lincoln. A hush falls over the crowd of Husker football fans as the sonnets of seasons past ring out from the field below.
Then, everything stops. The stadium is empty. No cheering fans, no players on the field, no marching band and no instruments filling the chilled autumn air. Just silence.
The coronavirus pandemic has shaken up the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s extracurricular traditions for 2020. Now, the fate of the Cornhusker Marching Band’s upcoming season, as well as Husker football, has yet to be determined by officials.
Memorial Stadium seats 90,000 people, and home games have sold out since 1962. A full stadium would exceed the limit of 10,000 occupants for outdoor gatherings set in place by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, as well as UNL guidelines regarding social distancing and face coverings for students, faculty and staff announced by Chancellor Ronnie Green in June.
The fate of Nebraska’s beloved annual tradition hangs in the balance after the announcement from the Big Ten Conference that teams in the division will play games only within the conference this season.
But Husker fans and the team are not the only ones wondering what the future holds. The atmosphere of Husker football is owed in large part to the Cornhusker Marching Band, a 300-member ensemble that has performed arm-in-arm with the Husker football team since the beginning.
Tony Falcone, the marching band’s director, is optimistic about the future of Husker football.
“Hearing ‘There’s No Place Like Nebraska’ and ‘Hail Varsity’ ring out in Memorial Stadium will bring spirit and hope to everyone,” he said.
Falcone facilitated online marching band auditions in June and July, which he said went very well.
The marching band has also committed to rehearsing outdoors this fall semester to alleviate health concerns. Falcone said that, even with the outdoor rehearsals, the band will be practicing social distancing, wearing masks, washing their hands and sanitizing their instruments, shared spaces and equipment.
“They’ll be playing with masks that have a small slit cut into them that’s just big enough for the mouthpiece of the instrument to fit through,” Falcone said. “As little breath escapes as possible while playing, and the mask functions when they’re not.”
The slit is located on the pleat of the mask and closes automatically when not in use, like when the marchers are not playing. Nylon coverings are also being considered to cover brass instruments and bells while playing.
Beyond changes to the marching band’s performance procedures, the altered semester schedule has already impacted the marching band’s timetable. The Cornhusker Marching Band Exhibition, a concert held in Memorial Stadium that shows what the ensemble has been rehearsing and previews the first halftime performance, is commonly held at the end of the summer but now falls in the first week of classes.
“We’re exploring an alternative format for this event, possibly taking it online,” Falcone said. “Our season-ending Highlights Concert was scheduled on a date that is now after the end of the semester. So, we’re figuring out how that might work as well.”
According to the marching band’s official website, the shortened Husker season has limited the marching band to playing only at home games, with no travel planned for the ensemble at this time. According to the official Husker schedule, the team has four home games scheduled for the coming semester.
Regardless of the decisions made by the rest of the university, Falcone said the number of students eager to perform and display their Husker pride in the marching band has not wavered from a season without a pandemic.
“Having to explore alternate means to accomplish tasks and conduct our business has opened up new ways to do things that we can keep for the future,” Falcone said.
He said students have been very flexible and accepting of change. It is because of the students’ determination and willingness to accept whatever comes their way that the marching band has been able to get auditions and rehearsals done, he said.
“It’s our wish that we’ll have the opportunity to bring a spark of normality to what promises to be a challenging semester for everyone,” Falcone said.