In a much different season of my life, but still in the same place where I live today – Iowa City – I was a proud member – sousaphone section – of The Hawkeye Marching Band (HMB). For four school years (1969-1972), I spent a lot of time and energy – my shoulder still aches today – toting my tuba up-n-down the football field at Iowa Stadium.
A quick note – Kinnick was simply called Iowa Stadium until my senior year (1972) – when the namesake was changed to honor Iowa’s only Heisman winner – Nile Kinnick.
In those days, fans clapped more for the HMB than they did for the hapless Hawkeyes. Over my four years at Iowa, the football team went thru two coaches – Ray Nagel and Frank Lauterbur – and one athletic director – Forest Evashevski – while racking up a very unimpressive won-loss record of 12-28-2. In my era of Big Ten football, only the champion went to a bowl game – The Rose – so in the band, the joke was if Iowa ever went bowling during our tenure, it would be The Toilet Bowl!
Since that time so long ago (1972), the Hawkeye football teams have gotten much, much better – kudos to Hayden Fry & Kirk Ferentz – now representing our proud university by being invited to dozens and dozens of bowl games, meaning those HMB brothers and sisters of mine who have come after me, have had countless opportunities to take long, extended road trips to sunny winter destinations like Pasadena, Tampa and San Diego. In my day, we considered ourselves fortunate with our annual trek outside Iowa City. Let’s see . . . for me it was cold-n-wet Evanston, Illinois; soggy West Lafayette, Indiana; snowy Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the very exotic Madison, Wisconsin, where our favored Hawkeyes lost in the final moments of the game, giving Bucky the Badger and his friends their first Big Ten win in several years, setting Camp Randall and Mad Town into a frenzy where the celebrating crowd nearly tipped over our UI buses! Yikes! But, don’t feel sorry for us. Our era of the HMB did leave its unique legacy.
We made some pretty good music – see our LP’s above. We made our amazing director, Tom Davis, and his rockin’ arrangement of Hey Jude into the HMB classic it now has become. We started the In Heaven, There Is No Beer ditty, while sampling a few brews along the way. Heck, we even welcomed the first girl in modern HMB history into the group during my senior year. Prior to this, with the exception of the few years around World War II, the only women who participated in the band were the twirlers. I bet you can imagine how much extra attention this nice lady got from their 119+ admiring co-workers!
So, allow me here to do a bit more reminiscing about The Hawkeye Marching Band, using some great pictures from the University of Iowa Digital Library to tell the story.
Before I jump to 1881, I should start with this fact:
The very first mention of a band at The University of Iowa was in the spring 1865 when a student petitioner named Frank Springer, a member of the Zetagathian literary society, pushed for the establishment of a University band. His “forceful agitation” was evident in a letter written to the Board of Trustees, in which he pressed for the purchase of instruments and establishment of a brass band at the University. Sadly, there is no record of anything ever being done in response to Mr. Springer’s request. But that all changed in 1881.
For most of its earliest years (1881-1936), the marching band was actually part of the military, working out of the SUI Armory, located just a few steps from Old Capitol. Most performances over these first 50+ years were done at military-related campus events, and even when the band performed at Iowa football games – Old Iowa Field through 1928, Iowa Stadium beginning in 1929 – it was on behalf of the SUI Military Department.
First Armory (1879-1905) (below left) was located on University Square – just south west of Old Capitol. This building was also the first power plant on campus. Iowa Field (1895 – 1928). President Charles A. Schaeffer – a proponent of college athletics – saw to it that Iowa have a dedicated space to play baseball, football, and other sports. Iowa Field (below right) abutted the Iowa River and was positioned between what is now Iowa Avenue and Burlington Street.
One of the highlights of the 1883 season was the band’s first performance at a collegiate football game, Iowa vs. Cornell College in Mt. Vernon. This was significant because 1882 was the first year that The University of Iowa played intramural games against other colleges. So, from the beginning of the University’s competitive football history, the marching band played a role in the pageantry of these games. This road trip to Cornell in Mt. Vernon, Iowa also marked the beginning of the tradition of traveling to away football games.
Things began to change in 1906, when the School of Music began, encouraging the Military Department to hire Henry G. Cox (1906-1908) and Howard J. Barnum (1909-1910) as the marching band’s first bandmasters. By 1912, the University had hired Gustav Schoettle as the director of the School of Music, began offering degrees in music, and the Military Department had hired O. E. Van Doren (1911-1937) as the first official Director of Bands.
To put all this activity in context, this is the era in American music when bandmasters like John Philips Sousa, Iowa’s own Karl King, and others were touring the country – stirring huge crowds with rousing, patriotic marches.
In Mason City, Iowa, a young man by the name of Meredith Willson was one of those young boys who was stirred by the bands, picked up a piccolo, played in the Sousa band, and eventually marched his way onto the Broadway stage with The Music Man in 1957. Read more about Iowans who were great bandsmen – like Karl L. King, Iowa’s March King.
Back in Iowa City, in 1919, P.G. Clapp arrived to head up the School of Music, charged with reorganizing it into a full-fledged SUI department and administering the growing staff of eight teachers. It was during this era when the School of Music was housed in three buildings – including Unity Hall below – located on and near the corner of Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue.
While the marching band was still holding practice sessions in the new Armory, now adjacent to Iowa Field, music lessons and other music-related events such as city and SUI parades were all focused in and around the School of Music – across from University Square. An annual highlight was the College of Engineering’s MECCA parade, where the Iowa marching band always played a major role.
The HMB was growing its own fan base from the very beginning. Here’s what the 1921 SUI Yearbook said about the band…
No football game would be complete without the band to lead such songs as “Old Gold” and “On, Iowa,” and to start the snake dance after the victory has been won. During the last football season, the band was sent to the Midway by popular subscription among the students, to give Chicago a real treat and to instill the ‘pep’ that always follows in the wake of snappy music.
No football game would be complete without the University Band to give it the proper gusto as the opposing teams line up and get set for the kickoff. Nor would it be a complete day unless the band came swinging down the field between halves in military formation and finally halted in front of the stands and gave the rooters an opportunity to try their lungs on “On, Iowa.” Again, after the final whistle has ended the milling, the same band leads the uncovered stands in that tribute to victors and vanquished alike “Old Gold.”
In 1932, the School of Music moved into new quarters: a refurbished former isolation hospital on Jefferson Street (today’s Stuit Hall) with a brand new adjoining rehearsal building (above). With that in place, the marching band transitioned out of the SUI Military Department – which now had its own separate Armory attached to the new west-side Field House – into the growing SUI Music Department, now anchored on the east side of the river.
After the transition into the Music Department, Charles B. Righter (1937-1953) was hired to replace Van Doren, and he immediately set out to restructure not only the organization, but also the style of instruction and appearance of the band in performance. In addition, Righter worked to grow the size of the program, which proved difficult due to the strength of established programs already within the School of Music and the presence of the Scottish Highlanders in the Military Department. At this point in time, the Highlanders were all men.
Here are some HMB diagram charts for half-time shows – ‘Block Iowa’ in 1937 (left) and ‘Old Cap Dome’ (1938).
Except for the amazing Nile Kinnick/Iron Men season of 1939, Iowa football struggled during the 1930’s and 40’s.
Looking for a football revival, Meredith Willson, Iowa’s favorite Music Man wrote The Iowa Fight Song (1950) upon request from the HMB. He premiered the song on his NBC radio show, The Big Show, on December 31, 1950 with a 47-piece orchestra and sixteen singers.
The song was introduced on campus on February 12, 1951 at the Iowa-Indiana basketball game. Meredith Willson guest-conducted the Hawkeye Marching Band at several Rose Bowl appearances – 1957, 1959, and 1982.
Click here to watch the Iowa-PBS video – The History of the Iowa Fight Song.
HMB formation charts from the 1958 Music Man show – featuring The Wells Fargo Wagon (left) and a Barbershop Pole (right) referencing Meredith Willson’s passion for barbershop quartets (Lida Rose).
By 1954, the Hawkeyes had only had four winning seasons in the previous twenty years, but head coach Forest Evashevski was confident that Iowa was on the verge of a breakthrough. To match this confidence, he wanted a band worthy enough of performing in the grandest of all bowl games, The Rose Bowl. Frederick C. Ebbs (1954-1966) was charged with this task, and his creative imagination brought a new fast-paced and upbeat show-band style to the HMB.
HMB in a downtown Los Angeles concert on a Rose Bowl trip in the 50’s (left). Director Fred Ebbs at work charting out a half-time performance.
In the mid-to-late 50’s, Iowa dominated Big Ten football, winning two league championships and winning two Rose Bowls (1957 and 1959). With the big increase of television sets in American living rooms, the Hawkeye Marching Band suddenly found itself performing their half-time shows before millions on a national stage.
In addition to a new stepping style, Fred Ebbs also greatly influenced the future of the HMB by introducing, in 1956, The Boom, the traditional pregame field entrance for the band. It all begins with the band kneeling on the sidelines with the percussion & sousaphone sections standing in the end zone. The lead snare drummer sets a tempo (160-180 beats per minute), tapping it off quietly for the percussionists to hear. At the wave of the band’s director hand, signaling the start of pre-game, the bass drummer sounds out a loud boom. That signals all the band members to stand up, and the count off has begun.
With exactness, the percussion section enters the field first, followed by the sousaphone section. After their entrance, the percussionists play a cadence while all the other band members enter from opposite sidelines, forming a double company front on the goal line and five yard line. Before the two halves of the band meet at midfield, the HMB drum major and golden girl – an addition made by HMB Director Frank Piersol in 1967 – make their entrance from the end zone down the middle of the football field, and the show has begun!
As we entered into the turbulent 1960’s, Iowa football took a nosedive. Attendance at Iowa Stadium stayed constant (Once a Hawkeye Fan – Always a Hawkeye Fan), but quite honestly, the marching band was the only Hawkeye squad on the field that won more than they lost. Frank Piersol, who was hired in 1967, oversaw the transition of the direction of the Hawkeye Marching Band from the responsibility of the Director of Bands to that of the Associate Director. Thomas L. (Tom) Davis (1968-1972), who had served as assistant to both Ebbs and Piersol, took over in 1968 and utilized his talent for composition to create fresh musical arrangements for the HMB. For me and my fellow bandsmen (and the one girl in 1972) this was the Golden Age of the HMB!
In October 1971, the HMB traveled to West Lafayette, Indiana, to perform at the Iowa vs. Purdue football game. The Purdue University “All American” Marching Band was known for its “World’s Largest Bass Drum.” Davis certainly did not want to be upstaged by the Purdue band, so he contacted a local manufacturer in Iowa City and had it fashion a two-foot steel triangle that could be used in the upcoming performance. He dubbed this behemoth the “World’s Largest Marching Triangle.” According to reports, this instrument still resides in The University of Iowa Percussion Studio’s collection! :0)
Click here to read the full story of Tom Davis, Director of HMB 1968-1972, and the personal impact he had on my life.
When I was a member of the Hawkeye Marching Band (1969-1972) I came across an old SUI band uniform from the 1930’s (above left). Using an old coat rack, I brought the aging uniform back to life! Here he is with my brother Eric (above right).
(M-0138) In 1989 – The Iowa Hawk Shop issued a set of cards featuring Iowa Hawkeye icons – including the HMB, Herky, and Kinnick Stadium.
Realizing that there’s so much more good history that has occurred in/with the HMB since the mid-1970’s, I think I’ll let you go over to The “Official” HMB Website or read Samuel C. Biggers excellent, On Iowa! A history of The University of Iowa Marching Band, 1881-2012. There you can pick up the HMB story from here. But, before I close, allow me one more short story on a personal note…
Himie Voxman succeeded P.G. Clapp as director of the School of Music in 1954, serving in this capacity until 1980. Voxman’s contributions to music education, pedagogy, and wind instrument repertoire were nationally recognized during his tenure as director, and continue to the present time. (The brand new music building in downtown Iowa City is named for him). Voxman oversaw the opening of the new Music Building in 1971, and its 700-seat recital hall was named in honor of Clapp. Voxman also played a major role in the development of Hancher Auditorium – adjacent to the Music Building – on the banks of the Iowa River (1972).
I was there in November 1972 for the opening weekend of Hancher, along with all of my co-marchers in the HMB. We had the distinct honor of being “the band” in the closing scene of Meredith Willson’s Music Man, with Meredith there in person to direct us! Probably one of my most memorable moments I ever had when wearing the honored black and gold of The Hawkeye Marching Band.
So, here’s to the 250-member marching musical ensemble that is keeping the Hawkeye spirit moving today! The HMB has always been one of the very best bands in the Big Ten and has long been considered to be one of the finest collegiate marching bands in America.
Hey – Hawkeye fans. . . are you ready for the BOOM?
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Hawkeye Marching Band pics, The University of Iowa Digital Library
Our History, University of Iowa Music Department
History – Hawkeye Marching Band, University of Iowa
On Iowa! A history of The University of Iowa Marching Band, 1881-2012, Samuel Carter Biggers Jr., Iowa Research OnLine, Spring 2013
Remembering The University Of Iowa Scottish Highlanders, FrontierNet
Hancher Auditorium – History & Impact, University of Iowa
From the archives: Iowa Hawkeyes marching band through the years-36 photos, HawkCentral.com, Sept. 17, 2019
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