CHICAGO — If this were a "normal" year, the Northwestern Wildcat Marching Band – which bills itself as "The Finest Band in the Land" – would be revving up for Saturday's big game against the Maryland Terrapins.
And the Marching Illini at the University of Illinois – which calls itself "The Nation's Premier College Marching Band" – would be gearing up for Friday's confrontation with the Wisconsin Badgers.
But the contests on the field will go on without the musicians, at least so far as their physical presence is concerned. For though the bands' videos may play on the big screen during home games, the musicians will be banished from the field and the stands due to the pandemic.
"The Big 10 conference has ruled that there are no bands, no dance teams, no cheerleading allowed at any games across the conference," says Barry L. Houser, U. of I. director of athletic bands.
"They will not be present at these initial football games," he adds in an email. "We are disappointed by this decision, as we feel we have one of the safest sets of COVID protocols anywhere in the country."
Nevertheless, the marching bands have fallen silent this season, robbing not only the games of their spectacular choreography and rousing music but the young musicians of a ritual they treasure.
"Everything that we do, we can't do," says University of Illinois senior Melissa Horton, 22, a molecular and cellular biology major (and psychology minor) who plays trumpet for the Marching Illini.
"Our purpose is to play and perform for a crowd for football games, events on campus, parades, and we can't do any of that!"
Says Northwestern senior Ethan Reiss, 21, who holds the position of drum major in the band: "What do I miss about marching band? What don't I miss? I miss everything.
"Well, I don't miss waking up at 4:30 a.m. for morning kickoff. But I miss rehearsals. I miss getting to march pregame shows," adds Reiss, a double major in political science and history. "There's no feeling like running out of the tunnel and seeing 40,000 people."