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Virtual halftime performance puts college marching bands in national spotlight

digital marching band
Posted at 3:04 PM, Jan 12, 2021

When this school year began, it was painfully clear there'd be a lot of silence inside college football stadiums across the country as fans and some marching bands were prohibited from attending games because of the risk of spreading COVID-19.

But it wasn't just athletes who were sidelined because of the virus.

Students in marching bands all over the country suddenly saw their seasons either dramatically altered or disappear completely.

As a drum major at the University of Maryland, Garrett Tatano was one of the thousands of students who were looking forward to finishing out his senior year with his university's marching band.

"We didn’t play for a single football game. In the Big Ten, no bands were in the stands at any time," Tatano said via an interview on Zoom.

That same disappointment was shared by other students across the country, including Lexi Ashton, a junior at Iowa State who performs as a twirler in her school's marching band.

"The marching band focuses on the fact that we're always going to be there for people," Ashton said.

As the end of the football season approached, the College Band Directors National Association came up with an idea to get students involved in a halftime performance, even if marching bands couldn't attend the game in person.

Barry Houser and his colleagues at the Intercollegiate Marching Band Association helped to organize a virtual halftime show, enlisting students from all over the country to submit video of themselves performing Beyonce's, "End of Time," that would then be edited together in one performance to be aired at the College National Football Championship game.

"Even though these challenging times of having a pandemic, we can reimagine things," Houser said.

The idea brought together marching bands from all over the country. In the end, 1,500 performers from 200 bands in 45 states came together to produce the virtual marching band show.

Because of copyright laws, ESPN wasn't allowed to air the performance on television, but it still played on a jumbotron during halftime for a crowd of about 15,000 people inside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. The performance also streamed on YouTube for the world to see.

"I hope they see the marching bands have put in incredible work this season. We haven’t slacked off a bit," Ashton said about the performance.

For all COVID-19 took away from these students, it also gave many of them a chance to perform on a national stage, something that doesn't always happen in college football.

"There are students out there who would never been able to participate in something like this just because of the conference their school is in," Houser said.

In the end, the University of Alabama beat Ohio State by a score of 52 to 24, but for these marching band students, it's this once in a lifetime performance that won the game.