Wednesday, October 25, Pittsburg High School band students had their instruments packed and uniforms ready for what would have been the culmination of their marching band season. For the fourth time in the last five years, PHS band director, Cooper Neil received the notification that the Southern Plains Marching Festival in Andover, Kansas, was canceled due to inclement weather.
Although the festival was canceled for the nearly 30 bands that were traveling to Andover, Neil decided that the students' hard work should not go unseen. Knowing that neighboring Riverton High School Marching Band also intended on traveling to Andover, Neil proposed a “pop up festival” and invited RHS to Pittsburgs’ Hutchinson Field so the bands could perform for each other.
“It is a real bummer when we are confronted with cancellations but these things happen in life and they happen for good reason,” Neil said. “I believe that the ability to pivot and remain flexible is a tremendous skill for kids (and adults) to learn.”
RHS Band Director, Lindsey Chambers gladly accepted Neil’s invitation and traveled to Pittsburg with her students.
“We are really grateful that Cooper had this idea and thankful to everyone here in Pittsburg for being so welcoming,” Chambers said. “We had a wonderful day and are happy we were able to do this in place of traveling to Andover.”
The Southern Plains Marching Festival is not only a place for marching bands from across the state of Kansas to perform for one another in friendly competition, it is an opportunity for marching bands to receive praises and critiques from professionals. Bands would have gone home with ratings and judges notes that allow them to reflect and improve their shows.
Not wanting students to miss out on this opportunity, Neil invited Pittsburg State University Marching Band Director, Dr. Andrew Chybowski to “judge” the two performances and give each band feedback.
“Even though there are no ratings or trophies today, it is really awesome and important that each band got the experience of performing in front of others and hearing people cheer for them,” Chambers said. “Coming here today was really important to us because band, and music in general, is a community. Even though we were supposed to be headed to a competition, we aren’t necessarily competitive. We all lift each other up and support everyone's successes and hard work.”
Neil was not going to simply end the day with the two marching shows. After the performances, the two bands gathered to eat lunch together and carve pumpkins. The idea stemming from Pittsburg Community Schools Orchestra teacher Irene Diaz, who had recently hosted a pumpkin carving party for her students, Neil decided that was just what their “pop up festival” needed.
With help from Chambers, PCMS band director, Delani Vogrin, band parent, Sara Ozbun, USD 250 Transportation Admin Assistant, Kasey Zimmerman, PHS Activities Director Jeff Staley and Carl Junction Band director, Samantha Widmar with Widmar Pumpkin Patch, Neil was able to plan the event in 24 hours.
“We all too often get fixated on "tradition" or our expectations. It is in these moments that we allow ourselves to miss out on other opportunities for creativity and new traditions,” Neil said. “We have had to do quite a bit of pivoting in the performing arts department over the last several years. It is my hope that students (and adults) learn that we can find joy and opportunity in many things.”