After nearly 70 years of tradition, high school musicians participating in this year’s University of Kansas Band Day won’t be strutting their stuff at Memorial Stadium.
Each year, the university has welcomed hundreds of young musicians from high schools across Kansas and Missouri to perform alongside its Marching Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium. This year’s event, while keeping the traditional parade through downtown before the game, won’t host a mass band performance on the field during the Sept. 9 football game against Central Michigan.
Matthew Smith, associate director of bands at the KU School of Music, said the decision to cancel the halftime segment was not hastily made. Instead, he said, organizers are attributing the change to a combination of dwindling interest from high schools, reduced parking space and other “logistical” challenges, such as limited storage space for large instruments at Memorial Stadium, that have emerged over the last several years.
“Over the years, you see trends,” Smith said. “So in response to that, we made a decision this year.”
And for now, he said, it’s permanent, though organizers may revisit the idea of a Memorial Stadium performance in the future.
As in years past, the high school bands will march in a parade (slated for 10 a.m., according to the KU School of Music website) down Massachusetts Street before that evening’s kickoff. After the parade, the Marching Jayhawks will hold a performance for all participating bands at South Park, 1141 Massachusetts St.
This year, however, isn’t the first time Band Day organizers have altered the schedule. In 2013, for example, KU officials were forced to cancel the parade because of NCAA rules regarding early kickoff times.
“What we found is that a lot of band directors actually preferred the parade aspect for their students as opposed to the halftime,” Smith said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 15 high schools — including Lawrence and Free State high schools, whose bands typically participate in the parade but not the halftime show — had signed up for this year’s Band Day. In some years, the event has attracted more than 30 schools.
Next month’s event would have marked the first time tiny McLouth High School participated in the Memorial Stadium halftime show. The school’s director of bands, Jacob Bubb, said his students were disappointed by the cancellation of this year’s halftime show. McLouth, with its student population of roughly 150, has long marched in the Band Day parade. When it comes to the cancelled stadium performance, “we don’t really know what we’re missing out on because we haven’t done it before,” Bubb said.
“I think it would have been cool, especially for my kids because we’re in a small town,” he said of performing at Memorial Stadium. “And a lot of those kids, when they think about KU basketball and football, that means the world to them.”
Still, Bubb said, he and his students remain excited for Band Day. What made the event “attractive” for McLouth, he said, was McLouth's proximity to Lawrence and the relatively minimal travel expenses that come with that. The streets of downtown Lawrence might not match the drama of a college football game, but marching in the Band Day parade still presents a rare opporunity for his students to perform on a much grander scale than usual.
“For a town of 800, it’s a big crowd,” Bubb says of the parade.
Smith, who directs KU’s Marching Jayhawks, said the Band Day concept is fairly unique, and that other universities across the country have also downsized or done away with similar events in recent years.
“This has been a growing thing nationally,” he said. “This is not isolated to KU.”
Kansas State University, which was recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1984 for its long-running Band Day, is replacing its program this year with a new event dubbed K-State ALL STAR Marching Band, with only the state’s top high school band musicians selected for the honor. Scheduling, security and financial challenges had made Band Day increasingly difficult to maintain in recent years, according to information shared on K-State’s website.