By Emily Shanmugam
The gym fills to the brim with overzealous students, the heat of too many bodies and too much excitement making the atmosphere feel electric and sparkling. Loud and raucous cheering echoes from every corner of the room as spirited students rally to their respective houses. On the gym floor, footsteps pound to the beat of a whirlwind of songs, which switch from peaceful to passionate at a dizzying pace. Flashy props, elaborate costumes, and eager students share the makeshift stage, enthralling the audience with story after story reenacted in the image of the houses that bring it to life. The performers infuse their productions with energy, each house pairing determined to impress the stoic panel of judges and win highly coveted Homecoming points, along with the glory of being titled Air Band Champions.
Air Band began almost four decades ago, taking place for the first time in the spring of 1984. According to the Graceland Book of Knowledge, it replaced the Spring Sing, a competition in which houses sang live for an audience. The students of Edwards House won the first Air Band competition, lip-synching to the Michael Jackson song “Beat It.” The event maintained its popularity, and, over time, became more elaborate, evolving into what it is today. The Campus Organization for Social Activities (COSA) puts on the competition every year at homecoming, and alumni gather to see the routines that the students have put together. This year’s Air Band performance will take place in the gym at 10 pm on Friday, September 30th.
“Airband is one of the biggest events during Homecoming Week that is put on and many alumni look forward to it every year,” said senior Karryn Allen, this year’s COSA President.
Here’s how it works: each house teams up with a brother/sister house for the semester, and, among other joint activities, each pairing works together to create an Air Band production. The groups spend hours rehearsing in the weeks leading up to Homecoming, often practicing late into the night and sacrificing precious hours of sleep in order to put their routines together. Come Homecoming Weekend, each house pairing reenacts an entire movie, using handpicked songs and original choreography, in under five minutes. There is a catch, however: the performers are not allowed to make a sound.
This year, for the first time, House Presidents chose their movies from a premade list of options. According to Allen, this ensured that House Presidents did not make changes to their selections. Additionally, this year marks a significant shift, since, as Allen said, “This is actually the first year since COVID that there will be no restrictions due to the virus.” On top of these changes, the newly renovated Morden Center will host the Air Band performances, an exciting change since the last two performances took place in the Lamoni High School gym.
Putting the performance together requires an immense amount of creativity, which seems to be one of its appeals. As junior Jessa Harms said, “It’s pretty much up to you to create and choreograph the whole thing and pick out all the music. It’s really up to the students themselves to create it, and at the end you get this big, amazing work of art that you get to present to everybody.” Despite being new to Graceland this year (and new to Air Band), Harms said she is already looking forward to getting to know other people, learning choreography, and making props as part of her house’s Air Band performance.
With a tradition as highly anticipated as Air Band, there’s bound to be some competition. When asked who she predicted might win, sophomore Kenna Nickell answered, “I’m kind of partial to Shalom and Agape, so that’s who I think.” With competition this intense, judges carefully evaluate the groups on the aspects of creativity, storytelling ability, props, and performance. This year’s judges include Jodi Seymour, James Geiselman, and Joel Shrock, chosen by recommendation of the President of the University, Patricia Draves, and the Dean of Student Life, Dave Schaal. The other three judges have not yet been confirmed but will be determined by student COSA representatives.
Air Band always draws a huge crowd, and this year is unlikely to be an exception, as students throw themselves into the process with characteristic Graceland spirit. Come Homecoming Weekend, audience members can expect a show at the very least. As Nickell put it, “I’m excited to see what the other house pairings have come up with.”