Jan 11, 2021
Virtual performance provides silver lining to KSU marching band season for Salina native
Drum major Gillian Falcon didn’t get to help lead the Kansas State University Marching Band onto the field this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the Salinan earned an unexpected opportunity to help conduct an even bigger band virtually.
Falcon, a junior and 2018 Salina South High School graduate, is one of 12 members of the The Pride of Wildcat Land selected, along with the entire K-State Classy Cats dance team, to participate in the College Band Directors National Association Intercollegiate Marching Band. Together with nearly 1,500 fellow band members from 200 college bands in 45 states and Puerto Rico, Falcon will be part of a virtual performance of the song "End of Time," by Beyonce. The video premieres online today on the Intercollegiate Marching Band YouTube channel ahead of tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes. The video will also be shown in the stadium during halftime of the game.
Falcon said she was approached about her interest in participating in the project by Frank Tracz, director of the KSU Marching Band. She eagerly jumped at the chance. “I said yes because it’s really cool to be able to perform with people all over the country, even if it is virtually,” she said. “Dr. Tracz recommended me and got me accepted into the program. I was really excited about it.”
Coordinating a video performance by hundreds of college marching band members scattered throughout the U.S. was logistically daunting, but advances in teleconferencing software made it feasible. Falcon said each participating musician was sent an electronic score with the parts they were asked to record. They were instructed to record while wearing headphones to ensure that everyone stayed at the proper tempo. Access to the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium wasn’t feasible, so Falcon recorded her performance in her Manhattan apartment, standing in front of a K-State flag.
Falcon said while she hasn’t seen the completed video, she’s seen enough of it to be impressed.
“It’s overwhelming. There’s so many people performing and doing stuff on these videos. It’s just kind of blocks of pictures and videos spliced together of everyone in time, which is insane for how many people there are.”
Tracz said the video project provided an opportunity for marching band members to temporarily escape from the worries and challenges associated with the pandemic, have some fun and simply be college kids again. He said the project was the brainstorm of a lot of college band directors who wanted to help ensure that marching band programs remain a vital part of the collegiate experience.
“These kids have a great opportunity to be a part of a college bowl game, to be a part of something that’s bigger than just an individual or a school’s band,” he said. “We do that a lot here at K-State and it’s a really awesome experience.”
The KSU football team has been invited to play in bowl games five out of the last seven seasons. The Pride has performed at all those games.
The band didn’t get to go to a bowl game to close the 2020 season. It also didn’t perform during the Wildcats’ final home game against Texas because of concerns about the virus. Students had been dismissed for Thanksgiving break and the dormitories were closed, so there was no place for band members to stay had they returned to campus for the final game.
Safety was a primary consideration in how the Pride managed its home game performances throughout the 2020 season. The band spread out across the entire north end zone of the stadium and took other precautions.
“We made it all work for as long as we could,” Tracz said.
Safety concerns also meant the band did not perform its traditional choreographed pre-game and halftime shows on the field during the season, instead performing only from the stands.
“COVID changed a lot of things. We didn’t have pub crawls before games. We didn’t have a band camp, which was really weird,” Falcon said.
Despite the challenges, Falcon said band members made the best of a less-than ideal situation.
“Other than masks and face shields the atmosphere during rehearsals and especially on game days was honestly exactly the same,” she said. “People were really excited to be there.”
She said since the band didn’t perform on the field during games, they weren’t required to be at the stadium as early as in normal years. Even so, some band members still showed up early just to soak up the atmosphere. In addition, she said the acoustics in the north end zone were better than in the corner section where the band normally performs, making the band sound “even bigger than we already are.”
Being in the end zone also meant the band was more visible during television coverage, especially during field goal attempts made in their direction.
“That was fun. We did these little shenanigans when the other team was trying to kick a field goal where everybody would jump towards the opposite direction from the field goal to try to mess them up,” she said.
Falcon participated in marching band all four years in high school, including two years playing trumpet and two years as a drum major. She played trumpet during her freshman and sophomore years at Kansas State before switching to drum major for her junior year. She is one of three drum majors who led the band during games. She said there is no comparison between marching with high school bands and what it’s like to perform with the Pride.
“The Pride is just so big, and everything is 10 times louder,” she said. “The expectations are a lot higher. It’s just incredible to see how much work and dedication everyone puts toward our performances.”
Falcon is a chemical engineering major who hopes to apply her degree to a career in environmental engineering, possibly focusing on wastewater management or air pollution control projects. She said the amount of time required between her engineering course work and marching band is a challenge.
“It’s a large time investment but I personally think it pays off in the end,” she said. “You just make so many friendships and you have so many experiences that you would never learn in the classroom.”
“These band kids are great kids,” Tracz said. “They get it. They have their priorities straight. They’re really fine young people, and the future looks bright if they’re going to be in charge.”
Both Falcon and Tracz said they are anxious to get past the COVID-19 pandemic and back to some semblance of normalcy with the marching band program.
“It’s been so long, and we haven’t had a full-fledged performance in a long time,” Falcon said. “I am hopefully anticipating next season being normal. I just can’t wait to get back to it.”
Tracz said he is equally eager to get back to business as usual. “It’s like I was telling somebody the other day, that even if we just went down there on the field and played wrong notes and it really didn’t sound very good, it would just be the greatest thing ever. No question.”
Falcon said some of her favorite college memories are from marching band.
“There’s just nothing like that feeling of pure adrenaline when you run out onto the field and you get ready to play your first notes,” she said. “The crowd’s just staring at you in anticipation. There’s honestly nothing like it, and it’s such an honor to be able to play with the Pride.”
Jan 6, 2021
Pride of Wildcat Land members, Classy Cats to perform with select intercollegiate marching band