“Big Ten sound” is a phrase often used by retiring University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band director Kevin Kastens, and it means more than just sounding good.
“Big Ten sound is not just sound, it is all encompassing. We are representing our university and the entire state,” said music education major and trumpet player Matt Buhr from Villa Park, Illinois.
“Kevin is an amazing educator and role model. He has very high standards, wanting us to be the best,” Buhr said. “He expects us to perform our best in every way; be modest and humble with no self-promoting.”
The Nov. 18 Iowa football game against Purdue will be Kastens’ last Kinnick performance as director of the Hawkeye Marching Band. After 170 halftime performances, this will be his Iowa City finale.
It is easy to tell by talking to Kastens and members of the Hawkeye Marching Band that the outgoing band director has a true passion for his chosen profession, a career that has spanned some 40 years.
“I love sharing my love for music with the students and performing in front of 70,000 people in Kinnick Stadium,” Kastens said.
Kastens started out teaching at the high school level in Chicago for nine years, became the assistant director of bands at the University of Indiana, then the associate director of bands and director of the Marching Mizzou at the University of Missouri. In 1998, he was hired at the University of Iowa, an opportunity to return to the Big Ten. He has spent the last 20 years in Iowa City as the associate director of bands and director of the Hawkeye Marching Band.
“There isn’t a better job than Iowa,” Kastens said. “There is nothing better than being the director of a marching band at a Big Ten school”.
During his time at Iowa, he forged a strong working relationship with the athletic department, helping to establish a permanent practice space for the marching band in a new UI multipurpose facility on the west side of campus. The facility, which the band started practicing in in 2014, includes an indoor practice area with acoustic panels and storage for the band’s uniforms and instruments. Along with the indoor practice area that is the same size, and with the same markings, as a 50-yard football field, there is an outdoor practice area just across the parking lot.
Leaving the job he loves is emotional. There have been lifelong friendships and relationships forged, and memories that will last forever, like those from the 2016 Rose Bowl. Kastens said he was fortunate to have directed bands in a Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl, “including the parade, which is just as important as the game for the band.”
He joked that the one thing missing was a national championship game, although he added, “hopefully that will be the next director.”
He will continue to teach music education until May then come back in a few years to help direct the University of Iowa Alumni Band, where, after a 20-year career at Iowa, he will see many familiar faces.
Although he has enjoyed his time at Iowa, he said, “It is time to turn this wonderful job over to someone with new ideas and a new love for the Hawkeye Marching Band”.
The university started a national search started in October, with the goal of having a new director hired by April.