Editor’s Note: This is another in a series of articles on the affiliate members of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Affiliate members have the right to participate in meetings and activities but are without voting privileges or eligibility for elected or appointed offices or assignments.
The roots of the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) can be traced to the mid-1920s, when a small collection of state high school bands started to gain recognition for their performances at national events. As the performing arts influence in Indiana grew throughout the 1930s, so did the need for a formal association, and with that came the inception of ISSMA’s predecessors – the Northern Indiana School Band, Orchestra, and Vocal Association (NISBOVA) and the Indiana School Music Association (ISMA).
The two entities collaborated to start sponsoring events jointly in 1973 and eventually merged to form ISSMA in Indianapolis in July 1981. The newly-minted organization hosted the first championship event under its new title later that year – the State Marching Band Finals – and would later expand to include the State Finals for Concert Bands, Choirs and Orchestras during the 1984-85 school year, the State Show Choir Finals in 2005 and the State Jazz Finals in 2016.
Fast forward to 2019 and ISSMA’s membership has swelled to include almost every high school and most junior high and middle schools in Indiana. The offerings have broadened substantially as well, as ISSMA currently conducts 140 events each year – 12 jazz festivals, 17 marching band festivals, 48 solo and ensemble festivals and a combined 63 concert band, choir and orchestra festivals for the high school and sub-high school levels. Yearly participation totals for each category range from 392 entries (marching band) to 35,000 entries (solo and ensemble).
“Our mission is to provide our member school’s students and teachers of music ensembles with educationally evaluated music performance opportunities,” said Mick Bridgewater, executive director of ISSMA. “To assist in fulfilling that mission, we strive to provide formative assessments that enhance the teaching and learning taking place in the music ensemble classroom.”
Indiana is one of 24 states in which performing arts programs are conducted by an organization other than the NFHS member association. Bridgewater said, “I believe having an organization focused on a specific activity allows for greater input from participating directors and sponsors than would be practical if one organization governed everything.”
While scheduling conflicts with the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and other activities associations can arise as a result of this independence, policies and procedures have been developed that allow directors to identify conflicts based on a three-tiered priority basis. Both ISSMA and IHSAA use the NFHS’ standardized numbered calendar weeks to avoid conflicts as much as possible. In addition, ISSMA and other statewide music organizations are members of the Alliance for Indiana Music Education, which was created to increase communication and cooperation.
Aside from being ISSMA’s inaugural event and the reason NISBOVA and ISMA initially partnered in 1973, the State Marching Band Finals is also ISSMA’s largest single-day outing. Held at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, the Finals bring together 40 of the best marching bands in the state and 6,000 participants to perform in front of crowds that exceed 20,000 people.
“In the same way the Indianapolis 500 is known as the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ the ISSMA State Marching Band Finals is the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Indiana High School Marching Band,’” Bridgewater said. “For many, it is their first trip to Indianapolis, first time to Lucas Oil Stadium, and first – perhaps only – time to perform for such a large and supportive audience. The sense of pride and accomplishment felt by the performers and directors radiates to everyone in attendance and imprints a treasured memory that lasts a lifetime.”
While the grandeur of the State Marching Band Finals and other state-level events require ISSMA to hire additional temporary staff members, the association simply cannot make the same commitment for smaller showcases around Indiana. Thus, ISSMA is reliant upon member schools and their communities to supply venues and volunteers.
“The positive outcomes of any ISSMA event are totally dependent on the willingness of schools and directors to host, as well as the willingness of parents, grandparents, alumni, and community members to sacrifice their time and energy to serve as workers,” Bridgewater said. “Without parents who understand the difference music education makes in the lives of students and are willing to show their support of music education by volunteering, music organizations like ours could not exist.”
As part of its mission to train adjudicators, ISSMA developed “The ISSMA Academy,” a comprehensive online training program that has produced more than 500 certified adjudicators since 2015. Bridgewater said the expansion of “The ISSMA Academy” is ongoing, as additional courses and resources in the areas of “Preparation,” “Participation,” “Adjudication,” “Management” and “Support” are all currently being developed, as well as other useful programs for directors, hosts and event workers.
“In order to provide the best educational assessment of student performances, we must provide adjudicators with the opportunity for training and practice,” Bridgewater said. “In the same way NFHS Learn has become a valuable professional development resource, it is our hope The ISSMA Academy will be an important and relevant resource for everyone involved in all facets of ISSMA events.”
Nate Perry is an intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan and a master’s degree in sport administration from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Prior to the NFHS, he worked in athletic communications/ sports information offices at CMU and Tennessee Tech University.