For the first time in more than a year, Janesville Craig High School Marching Band member Trevor Wright was feeling the weight of a big brass tuba.
The high school senior said his back and shoulders ached from the weight of the big tub horn. Pain aside, after an hour practice Thursday in the band room at Craig High School, Wright found himself in back in the pocket.
Clad in shorts and a red Hawaiian-style shirt, Wright was nailing down the shuffling, low-end bass line of Neil Diamond’s classic song “Sweet Caroline.” He was jamming alongside about 15 members of Craig’s marching band—and about 15 of his crosstown counterparts from the Parker High School Marching Band.
After more than a year of essentially being shelved—barred from performances and fractured in ranks by limited, socially distanced practices during the COVID-19 pandemic—the two bands are now back in action.
This week, both Parker’s and Craig’s bands—including 45 or so members in all—are set to make a big noise in their first major public performance since the start of the pandemic.
On Friday night, during the Tour of America’s Dairyland Town Square Gran Prix bicycle races downtown, the bands will perform together with brass instruments and drums spread out in a formation across the town square’s riverfront footbridge at the center of the city.
Organizers say it’s the first time in memory the bands will perform together in unison. The joint performance is aimed, in part, at burying a longstanding rivalry between the schools.
Part Kumbaya moment, part entertainment, organizers say the bands’ joint performance is conceived as a musical celebration of one of the first major public events the city has had since the pandemic hit in February 2020.
Craig High School Principal Alison Bjoin said local Gran Prix organizers are working to promote the performance as an event-within-an-event. The hope is that families and students of all ages will be drawn downtown to see the bands play and then stick around for the races.
It would put a band performance at the center of the city—and at the center of a national circuit bike race that since 2018 has found a new home and has cultivated an annual audience of thousands.
“Not only is it a great opportunity for these student bands to finally get out and perform, but it’s a chance to do something kind of social,” Bjoin said. “Things like student field trips haven’t really happened in the last year and a half. The organizers are making the bands’ performance more than just play and go. There’s kind of a social piece of it for kids, too. That’s what’s really special.”
Parker High School Band Director John Biester and Craig High School Band Director Andrew Redler said students at both schools are aware of the longstanding rivalry.
Biester said the rivalry seemed to have taken root around the time Parker High was established on the city’s west side—several years after Craig High was built. At the time, the city’s west side was still viewed by some as being rural and provincial.
Biester said as the west side has built up and grown over the years, the rivalry has seemed to lose some of its original steam. He hopes the joint performance will mark the start of more regular collaborations between the two schools’ bands.
As the bands practiced together to gear up for Friday’s performance, Biester told the students as much.
“You two bands are playing together for the first time since the start of the human race. Realize that,” he said. “But what’s more important is that you realize this: You guys sound really great together right now. This is good. You’re going to make this happen.”