By GARTH SNOW
More than 1,800 high school marching band members wearing 24 schools’ colors will perform their 2019 shows Saturday, Sept. 7, at Bluffton High School.
Most Allen County schools and two Whitley County schools are among the field that will march in six classes at the On the Banks of the Wabash marching band festival.
Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens. Concession stands will offer standard game night fare plus pizza. Parking is free.
Jim Bueter, director of the host Bengal Brigade marching band, said students may experience some opening-night jitters at what for most schools is the first festival of the season. For freshmen, it’s the first festival of their high school careers.
“If it happens to be hot and it’s the first time they’ve been in uniform, then we have to deal with that, too,” Bueter said. First-aid personnel will be available right at the field. “We’re prepared for just about everything,” Bueter said.
For most bands, the Bluffton show will mark a milestone in a journey that began with summer band camp, continued into school night and weekend practices, and will culminate in Indiana State School Music Association competitions into November.
The main spectator parking area is at the middle school right off Indiana 116. Overflow parking is at the elementary school on Spring Street.
For Bueter, 2019 marks his 22nd turn as Bluffton festival director. “This festival itself has been running for more than 40 years,” he said.
The 1984 graduate of Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne earned degrees from Indiana University in Fort Wayne in 1992 and Indiana University in Indianapolis in 2004.
Before taking the post at Bluffton, Bueter served as a substitute in the Fort Wayne Community Schools and Southwest Allen County schools for three and a half years, then as director for the Tippecanoe Valley School Corp. for two years.
He thanked the Bluffton High School band parents for making the festival possible. “For my band boosters, for as small of a program as we are, to be able to put on a contest of this magnitude is really an amazing thing,” he said. “So I really have to give credit to my band boosters for being able to pull this off.”
The host school will perform in exhibition, which means the band is not eligible for trophies. The Bengal Brigade embraces 34 marching musicians and color guard members. This year, Bluffton will compete in ISSMA Open Class D. Bluffton has been a frequent visitor to the ISSMA Open Class Finals, which includes just 10 bands statewide from each of our enrollment categories.
Other schools will compete in two scholastic classes, which begin and end one week earlier than the four open classes. Most of the bands at Bluffton will march in Open Class D, C, B or A. One school will compete in a higher class at Bluffton due to scheduling demands.
“You can compete in a higher class, but you can’t move down to a lower class once the season begins,” Bueter said.
Judges are assigned form a judging circuit. “We have a judge coordinator we work with and he assigns the judges to our show and it’s up to us to arrange transportation,” Bueter said. “This year we have two judges flying in, one from Georgia and one from New York, and we have three judges from Michigan and one from Indiana.”
Performances are judged on individual music, ensemble music, individual visual and ensemble visual and general effect in those categories, known as captions. Scores sometimes vary by just a fraction of a point. “And more than not, you have a tie in a certain caption,” Bueter said.
In a change from previous years, Open Class bands will march at 15-minute intervals. Scholastic Class bands still will march at 13-minute intervals. The assigned time signals the band’s opening to begin moving props and personnel onto the field. Bands must warm up, perform and exit at the opposite end of the field by the close of the assigned window.
The festival opens with Heritage at 2:30 p.m. After breaks and awards, the festival closes with Homestead at 9:45 p.m., with Open Class A and B awards to follow.
Once the festival ends each year, planning begins for the next year.
“We do a lot of planning in the offseason after the band year. We talk it over, we talk about what went well and didn’t and what we need to next year, “ Bueter said.
“Ultimately, we do it for the kids,” Bueter said. “Our program wouldn’t be able to function without the profits that we get from this contest, and we do it so the kids can have the marching band experience.”