This Marching Band Contest, an invitational affair held along with the 10-day long Ak-Sar-Ben Rodeo in Omaha, was an important factor in the upgrading of the marching bands in the area. The initial contest was held in 1939 with bands and drum and bugle corps participating from Nebraska and Iowa. (Baton twirling was added in 1940 for one year) During World War II, the event was discontinued from 1942 to 1946 and resumed in 1947 strictly as a band contest. Sixteen bands appeared each year and were classified as A, B, or C, according to the size of the school, with two or three bands appearing each night of the rodeo. These performances took place in an indoor arena with an unmarked dirt floor. Cash awards and banners were given to the winning schools in each class, and each member of the winning bands was given a medal. Beginning in 1960 the number of bands was cut to twelve, and the competition was discontinued in 1964.


The High School Band Day movement, widely accepted and promoted by universities across the nation, had its origin at the University of Nebraska. In 1924 Director of Athletics John Selleck invited neighboring municipal, fraternal, high school and commercially sponsored bands to help fill empty seats in the new stadium at the football games; fifteen bands participated and played individually from the stadium seats. Bands were also admitted to other games during these lean years.

20th Annual Band Day
University of Nebraska October 11, 1958

By 1932, as attendance to games improved, it was decided to concentrate all bands at one game, and as part of the October Homecoming festivities, approximately 700 band members were massed on the field before the game under the direction of W. T. "Billy Quick". Prior to the game thirty-five bands paraded around the track in the stadium and then massed on the field to play several tunes under Mr. Quick's direction. With all the favorable publicity that was created by the university, the decision was made in 1934 to set aside a day especially for bands and to officially designate it Band Day.

In 1938 the new Athletic Director wanted to discontinue the event, but Professor Don Lentz, who became director in 1937, prevailed upon Chancellor Burnett to continue and change the format to high school bands only. Thus, in the Fall of 1938, the first official high school Band Day included ten bands from Wilber, Ulysses, Albion, Columbus, Osceola, Peru, Stamford, Papillion, Fairbury and Lincoln. In spite of some cold, snowy weather that first year, it made a big impression, and in 1939 17 bands participated, increasing to 22 in 1940. As World War II began, game attendance and band participation dropped some, but people would still come to see the bands. This was exemplified in 1942 when, during a season that saw crowds as few as 200, Memorial Stadium was filled to capacity on Band Day. This was the only sellout during the entire war period, because, due to travel restrictions caused by the war, Band Day was cancelled for the next two years. In 1945, 30 bands participated, and the number grew to 55 in 1946. Then, in 1947, as attendance began to increase, it was decided to limit the number of band participants to 3,600, the exact number of seats in the North and South end zone bleachers. Also during this time, a parade of all the bands on Lincoln's "O" street became a major feature and attraction prior to the game each year.

As the 1940's ended, the spectacle of Band Day rapidly grew in popularity, with other conference directors "jumping on the bandwagon", so to speak, followed by many of the Big Ten bands. In the span of about ten years almost every major college and university in the nation had a Band Day. Thus, Donald Lentz is recognized as the creator and initiator of a tradition that is still in existence today.

Starting in 1966, the bands were restricted from being on the field and played only from the seating in the end zones as a massed concert band, with the University Band on the field. Then in 1971, due to modifications and expansions of the stadium and playing field, it became impossible to continue under even this format, making that the final year for Band Day.

We close with a delightful quote from Donald Lentz regarding the scheduling of Band Day each year: "I always tried to go around the first week in October and I always avoided a new moon. Several captains of ships we had traveled on had a superstition about new moons and weather, which I heeded, and were only rained out once in 34 years.


Grand Island's "Harvest of Harmony" is the "Grand-daddy" of all of Nebraska's many band festival-contest type of events. For participating bands, it features both street and field marching performances and competitions. In 1938, eight bands made up the first parade, followed by a massed band concert on the steps of the Grand Island Courthouse. During the years of World War II, the festival was suspended. Upon resumption after the war, the format consisted of a morning parade of bands and non-musical units. In the afternoon, select bands competed in a field competition, divided into classes A-B-C-D. The 1977 festival attracted 85 bands for the parade, 39 of which competed in the afternoon. The festival, usually scheduled in October, is still going strong, and continues to attract many bands from across the state.


Melody Round-up was initiated by James M. King in 1951. The format called for a morning parade followed in the afternoon by a mass concert during the halftime of the football game. The bands sat in concert formation in the stadium and were conducted by a "nationally-known" conductor. This format remained the same until the arrival of Duane E. Johnson in 1967. Another feature of the event was that all the bands were fed their noon meal. A scholarship competition was also held for students in search of a music scholarship.

Prior to 1967 bands were not in competition for a rating but only paraded down the street. The initial change was to have bands evaluated by qualified judges. The noon meal was continued until the number of bands participating got so large that it was no longer financially feasible—68 bands were fed the last year. The scholarship competition was also eliminated at the same time. The afternoon event was changed to place all of the bands on the field for a mass concert as the number of participants made the use of the stadium prohibitive. The musical literature was changed from concert numbers to marches and show tunes appropriate for the marching band. Melody Round-Up had been a separate date but Homecoming, and Parent's Day were all combined for one date and allowed for Homecoming floats to separate the bands. The event has always been just for college participants and has banned commercial entries.

The format was later changed to eliminate the half-time performance as many of the smaller bands had to use up their entire music budget just to participate—thus, numbers began to fall off. The parade has continued as the main event and continues to attract large numbers of bands.


Scottsbluff initiated its first Marching Contest around 1949-1950. It was sponsored by Scottsbluff College, later named Nebraska Western. The contest consisted of a street parade with the bands being judged for a rating. The bands then met at the high school stadium to prepare for a performance, in masse, at halftime of the college football game. It was later changed to allow selected bands to perform their own show at halftime.

The festival later was taken over by the local chamber of commerce and continued to feature the parade. Mike Tracey, owner of the local radio stations agreed to take responsibility for the parade and added an afternoon field competition to the festivities. In cooperation with the chamber, an event called "Balloon Days" was initiated. These large balloons were released by their owners at a specified time and were in flight during the street competition.

In the early 90's, Dean Maxwell sought permission from NSBA to make Scottsbluff the Western Site of the NSBA State Marching Contest. Permission was granted and Scottsbluff has functioned in this role since the mid-90's.


Sidney has an annual celebration called the "Octoberfest". An important feature of the event is a parade which attracts bands from throughout Western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming. The bands are judged during the parade and compete in a field competition in the afternoon.


In the early 90's the Minden Chamber of Commerce, with the assistance of High School Band Director Phil Fahrlander, began an annual Marching Contest. This contest incorporates both a street marching competition and a field competition. This contest regularly attracts bands from across the central part of the state.


Band Days are held on most of the college campuses including Chadron, Wayne, Peru, UNO and Kearney. Band Days have been or are now being held in Lexington, Gothenburg, Plattsmouth, Wisner, Columbus, Nebraska City and Norfolk.


The Concept: The concept of an indoor marching band contest was born when Pershing Municipal Auditorium in Lincoln opened its door in 1957. Local band director George Anderson, along with David Fowler, Art Schrepel, Lou Berkel, Byron Havlicek, Melvin "Mac" McKinney, Bud Johnson, Duane Schulz and auditorium manager Richard Wagner organized the original festival which took place in November, 1958. Twenty bands were present for the initial festival: Albion, Aurora, Beaver Crossing, Dannebrog, Dorchester, Edgar, Fairmont, Gordon, Hay Springs, Holbrook, Madison, Nebraska City, Rushville, South Sioux City, Spencer, Sutton, Syracuse, University High, Wahoo, Wymore.

The only other marching competitions in Nebraska at the time were the Harvest Of Harmony in Grand Island, and the Ak-Sar-Ben Rodeo Contest in Omaha. The Ak-Sar-Ben contest was by invitation only, and the Pershing contest was designed to be state-wide, and open to any school in Nebraska.

The First Rules: The first rules followed the National Contest Required Maneuvers, which included stand, stop playing while marching, column (turn) left and right, countermarch, increase and decrease front, right and left flanks, diagonal marching, and others. These required maneuvers present a challenge to include them all and not run into a wall; the auditorium floor consisted only of the distance between the 25 yard lines from end to end and only six yards past the hash marks to the side wall.

Music played by the bands consisted mostly of marches and the bands performed entirely in block formation for the entire show. Since the arena floor used yard lines, some bands began to use the 8 to 5 step, while others ignored the yard lines entirely and simply marched the drill. Judges were placed on three sides of the arena and the bands were expected to have straight lines and diagonals at all times.

New Ideas: In the 60's, A. R. Casavant of Tennessee developed company fronts and step two-drills, which were adapted and used by many bands, and the Festival dropped the required maneuvers. Bands then began to use all the new ideas in marching, which included the use of four person squads, pinwheel drills, and moving diamonds, most of which marched from the end zone. The advantage, and challenge, of Pershing was that every note could be heard by the judges who, being placed around the arena, could be very critical of both marching and playing.

Directors now began to fit their music to the number of counts in their marching drills, and frequently used only small segments of tunes, changing pieces as their drills changed. The 8 -5 and 6 - 5 steps were common and some bands developed unique steps which became tradition with them, and they took pride in their individual style. Bands were required, however, to play during their entire show, and ratings were lowered for standing in one place while playing, or marching to cadence only.

The Growth: During the 60's and 70's the festival grew from the original 17 to a high of 82 bands in 1982. In the early years, bands were allowed a 5-minute run-through on the floor, scheduled before and between competition segments. As the number increased, the rehearsals were dropped. In 1963-1966, the Committee hired Bill Speichel, from the Nebraska National Guard, to inspect each band. He would go through each band prior to their performance, checking for trouser length, uniform fit and finish, shoes polished and general posture and carriage. A separate award was given to bands having the highest inspection scores.

With a large number of bands, competition shows were short, and varied from five minutes-up depending on the time available that day. Each show was timed, and the ratings lowered if the band went over the allotted time—and the Festival always ran on time. Shows began to change and the bands, instead of beginning in a block formation, began to line up in front of the stage in company fronts, do fanfares, and do down-field drills to get into position in the center of the arena floor. Band directors began to write parts of shows or individual sections only, or solo instruments playing while the band marched. Percussion sections marched with the bands in ranks and, even with small sections, as the indoor acoustics were frequently critiqued as being too loud for the balance.

Style Changes Again: In the late 70's marching band styles again changed and corps style marching came into existence for high school bands. Nebraska bands were slow to adapt to this new style because Pershings's arena floor was not large enough to spread a band beyond the 25 yard lines. The Festival adapted with rules changes, moved the judges to one side of the arena, began to allow for percussion features, and even allow bands to stand and play. With the advent of the NSBA Contest, many of the larger bands could not adjust their outdoor competition shows to the arena, but the Festival remained the contest of choice for the smaller schools.

Waverly High School Puts "Fine" On Pershing: On November 7, 1992, the Waverly High School Band, under the direction of Bob Maag, performed its show as the final competing band at the Festival, thus ending a 35 year marching band tradition, unique to this state, and possibly to the entire nation.

Some historical facts which may not be known by those who were not around during the early years of the Festival: In 1962 the Marching Band Festival Committee met and organized the Nebraska State Bandmasters Association; committee member, Jack R. Snider served as the first president. The Festival also provided funds for NSBA as it grew and became stronger; in 1971 the committee organized and funded the NSBA scholarhips for high school seniors planning to study music. The famous decal came into existence in 1970, and participating students proudly placed them on their instrument cases from year to year.

Over the years, 201 Nebraska Bands participated in the Festival. Albion and Sutton attended all 35 years. Waverly came for 34, with one director, Bob Maag, for 32 of them. Other schools with long records included Osceola, Nemaha Valley, Shelby, S.E. Consolidated, Syracuse and Wayne. Thirty four directors served on the committee. George Anderson, Phil Murphy, Duane W. Johnson, Mike Veak, Jack Snider and Russell Quick served as Festival Chairmen.

Perhaps the most unique feature of he Nebraska Marching Band Festival was the planning for all bands to have reserved seating to watch other bands perform. A great visual effect was to see the entire North section of the arena seating filled with students in full uniform, watching, critiquing, and applauding other bands. Former bandsmen never forget the experience of marching on the "slick" floor, with other bands, parents and other supporters in a full house watching their every move and hearing every sound.


The Pershing Marching Festival had been the premier Marching Contest from 1958-1992. When the Pershing Auditorium floor would no longer accommodate the larger bands and the newer "Corps Style" of marching, an alternative had to be found. It became apparent that the only alternative was to move to an outdoor facility which would have to be a football field.

The need for change became apparent in the late 70's and early 80's. In the early 80's a volunteer committee comprised of directors Ron Dalton, Jim Johnson and Larry Marik worked together to lay the groundwork for a new state-wide marching contest to be sponsored by the NSBA. The first competition was held in Lincoln in the Fall of 1983, with 42 bands participating in five classes of competition. The number of bands participating has grown to 116 bands competing in 2004. There have been eight bands that have competed for each of the 22 years: Bellevue East, Bellevue West, Columbus, Elkhorn, Fort Calhoun, Millard North, Norris H.S. and Plattsmouth.


In 1924 the first organization was formed to promote music in the state of Nebraska. The organization was called the "Nebraska High School Music Association. " Its purpose, as defined by the first Constitution was stated as follows: "It shall be the purpose of this organization to promote school music in the state of Nebraska and administer the state music competitions". The controlling body was a Board of Control consisting of 5 members. The Board of Control was empowered to administer all aspects of the contest including rules, supervision, enforcement, appeals, and finances. However, the rules state that the Board shall have absolute authority until the regular meeting of the Association. Any rules or decisions could be amended on a referendum vote by a two-thirds vote of all schools taking part in the previous contest.

The State Contests were hosted by Lincoln H.S. The early contests really reflect an eastern Nebraska participation with the exception of McCook. There were no District Contest at this time so anyone wishing to enter was eligible to participate. The contest was divided into classes in all categories except bands which compete in one class. Points were assigned to each category on the judging sheets and a winner was named in each category based on the total number of points. A Grand Champion called the "All-Nebraska Music Championship" was named each year. A trophy was awarded that could be displayed for one year and then returned the following year. The first trophy winner was the Lincoln Public Schools.

There were no District Contests, as we know them today, until 1937. The State Contests ended in 1935 and still reflected primarily a central and eastern Nebraska participation. It is possible that the District format was set up by the presiding body of the Nebraska School Activities Association—whatever its title was at that time. However, it reflects totally a District format as we see it today.

The State Music Contest became a thing of the past with the formation of the Nebraska Music Educators Association in 1937. At the organizational meeting of NMEA in 1937 the Nebraska State Band Directors Association merged with the choral directors. At the organizational meeting, the State Contests were dropped and the District format has continued as we know it today. The District format has seen very few changes since its inception.


The Mideast Band Festival began in the 1945 - 1946 school year. It was promoted by Vernon Forbes, Sr., who was the director of the Lincoln Northeast High School Band. The purpose behind the festival was to give the Northeast Music students a chance to perform solos, ensembles and play in bands which received a critique by a guest conductor instead of ratings. At that time the Lincoln music groups were not allowed to participate in any music contests.

When the Mideast Athletic Conference was formed in 1945, Mr. Vernon Forbes, Sr. and other directors in that conference decided that would be a good opportunity to start a Music Festival of the five bands in the conference. The first Mideast Festival was held at Lincoln Northeast High School with Donald Lentz as guest conductor and critic of solos, ensembles and bands in March 1946.

The agenda for the day was to have a festival band of about 85-100 instrumentalists picked by the five directors from the participating schools. The festival band rehearsed in the morning and part of the afternoon. The remainder of the band members from the various schools arrived around noon. From about 2:30 to about 5:00 P.M. each of the schools presented a thirty minute program of solos, ensembles and stage bands for each other. In the evening each of the schools presented a thirty minute program with the select Festival Band presenting a grand finale concert.

The festival was held at a different school each year. Concepts changed and the entire band from each school came together in the A.M.. While the festival band rehearsed, the rest of the students attended special sessions on the various instruments. When the Mideast Conference dissolved, the band directors chose to continue the festival until termination in 1977. By this time, the Lincoln Schools were allowed to attend Music Contest.


The first Nebraska Intercollegiate Band (NIB) was organized as part of the 1980 NSBA convention. It was considered to be such a successful endeavor by participants, organizers and spectators alike that it has since been a regular part of each succeeding convention.

The band has been represented by musicians from as many as eight different colleges/universities for any given year. The membership is taken from recommendations by the band directors from each participating college or university. Most of the students recommended are music education majors and are required to be student members of NSBA. The final selection of student musicians recommended is at the discretion of the acting coordinator of the NIB that is selected annually by the directors. The coordinator's decisions are based upon factors of instrumental balance and need, plus student interest and director's comments. Seating and chair placement is determined by auditions on the first day of rehearsals.

The guest conductors have traditionally been selected by the NIB coordinator and have been some of the most renowned conductors associated with music of higher education.


In 1960 James M. King approached the NMEA Executive Board seeking permission to begin a select High School Honor Band consisting of not more than 60 players. A nationally-known conductor would be secured to work with the students for two days and present a final concert. It was explained that he would travel the state conducting "live auditions" at various selected sites across the state. The plan was Ok'd allowing him to call it the Nebraska High School Honor Band.

In 1967 Duane E. Johnson became conductor of the Hastings College Band and continued the same format. However, the number of would-be participants grew so large that a "team" of college personnel would now travel to audition students. Fifteen to seventeen audition sites were set up throughout the state with the team traveling from site to site over a six day period.

Students were given a "live" audition while being tape recorded at the same time. After returning to the campus the live audition was evaluated and the tape listened to and the final outcome determined. The directors and the individual students were notified of the outcome and band music sent to those students who had been selected to participate in the Honor Band.

The Honor Band assembled on a Thursday evening and spent two hours in sectional rehearsals in preparation for the first rehearsal on Friday. The rehearsals were held Friday and Saturday with the final concert being held on Saturday evening.

The Nebraska High School Honor Band was the first of its kind in Nebraska: the format has been copied by other institutions, but, the Nebraska High School Honor Band has remained the premiere event of its kind in Nebraska.


The Winter Festival is a unique concert band and chamber ensemble festival for high school juniors and seniors, held in January of each year. The festival is designed to give outstanding musicians a comprehensive playing experience. Festival participants are chosen through a taped audition process. Those attending are involved in three different ensembles: a select honor band, a chamber ensemble coached by one of the School of Music's wind and percussion faculty, and a large symphonic band that combines the festival honor band with the University Wind Ensemble. Students also participate in a master class with the applied wind and percussion faculty.


The University of Nebraska at Omaha Honor bands Festival was developed by Director of Bands James Saker in February of 1979 with Frank Piersol, Director of Bands at the University of Iowa as the guest conductor. Students for the UNO Honor Bands are chosen based upon the nomination and recommendation of their band director, along with their musical honors and achievements, contest ratings, all-state selections, etc. Beginnning in 1984, a second honor band limited entirely to students in grades 9 to 11 was added to the festival which also includes master classes with faculty artist/instructors, guest soloists performing with each honor band, and new music reading sessions for participating school band directors. Approximately 200 student musicians are chosen annually from the more than 500 nominations from 75-plus schools. The guest conductors who have been invited to conduct the honor bands include a veritable who's-who of the wind band profession and have included collegiate directors/composers James Croft, Timothy Mahr, Robert Fleming, Tom Lee, John Zdechlik, Russell Coleman, Paula Holcomb, Joe Herman, Don Marcouiller, Stanley Hettinger, Dennis Johnson, Myron Welch, Pat Hoy, Allen Bonner, Dwayne Sagen, David Blackinton, Lissa Fleming, Doug Keiser, John Locke, Steve Peterson, Richard Mayne, Morgan Jones, Richard Fisher, Robert Jorgensen and others. Nebraska and Iowa high school band directors that have also been invited to serve as guest conductors include Duane W. Johnson, Roger Groth, Glen Koca, Don Johnson, Rex Barker, Jim Johnson, Bob Maag, and others. Several guest soloists have performed with the festival including Ray Crisara, Eugene Rousseau, Amanda Ghitalla and Harvey Phillips.


In 1995 the NSBA initiated a concert band festival for any bands in the state, to be held each spring at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This is a non-competitive festival which showcases the numerous outstanding concert bands in Nebraska. Bands receive critical comments and a half-hour clinic from some of the best conductors in the nation. The clinicians that have been to this festival comment that it is one of the most educationally sound and best run in the country. Nebraska band directors that have participated have seen their concert band students' excitement and interest rise with assitance of this caliber. Since its inception, through 2004, there have been 47 school bands from across the state that have participated, with many of them appearing several times.


The Great Plains Jazz Festival was initiated in 1972 by then UNO Director of Bands Reginald Shive. Originally a competition for jr. high and high school jazz bands, the festival was , expanded in 1979 by James Saker to include visiting jazz artists as featured soloists, as well as professional jazz combos and educational clinic sessions for students and directors.. Guest artists who have appeared include Dizzie Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Doc Severson, Bill Walrous, Bobbie Shew, etc.

Nebraska State Bandmasters Association
NSBA Archives