The Ohio State Band Plays On

Peter Tonguette
The OSU band in action before the pandemic

For The Best Damn Band in the Land, the marching was set to go on—pandemic be, well, damned. If the Ohio State Buckeyes had been able to play football as originally scheduled this fall, their beloved brass-and-percussion colleagues would be following right behind them.

“We were still planning on being a part of the games in whatever way we could,” says Chris Hoch, director of the OSU marching band. The final format of such performances remained up in the air—options included shifting to postgame-only performances—but the will was there to field a band.

Instead, as the Buckeye football team gears up to play its much-delayed season-opener Oct. 24 against Nebraska, the musicians find themselves still on the sidelines: The Big 10 has prohibited marching bands and cheer groups from participating in games this year. By now, band leaders have become accustomed to disappointment.

All the band’s usual activities have been curtailed by the coronavirus: No in-person rehearsals have taken place since March, and a popular summer clinic program—typically drawing around 200 high school students to learn the finer points of band style—was canceled.

The band, though, plans to play on—just not at football games. Having chosen 2020 members via a video submission process, the students will attend band classes free from the pressure of creating game-day programs. The hope is that musicianship can be emphasized. Distanced marching rehearsals might also take place.

Virtual “halftime show”-style performances, featuring the musicians at an otherwise completely empty Ohio Stadium, will be recorded and posted online, with the first set to drop on the morning of Oct. 24. Social distancing won’t be a problem. Says Hoch: “The marching band really is an organization that’s built for that kind of thing—being outdoors, being spread out over a field.”