Hawkeye Marching Band director loves Big Ten


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A framed poster titled “Bands of the Big Ten” hangs on the wall in Kevin Kastens’ office.

The poster features photos of Big Ten bands in their signature formations — the Hawkeye Marching Band spelling “Hawks,” Michigan’s block “M,” and Ohio State’s script “Ohio,” for example.

It is these formations, these bands, and these traditions that brought Kastens to the University of Iowa in 1998.

“There is something very special about the Big Ten as far as traditions go,” he said. “Every program has great traditions — whether it is their formations [or] their music — and Big Ten football is very exciting.”

He is in his 14th year as the director of the Hawkeye Marching Band.

Before coming to the UI, the 56-year-old held three other directing positions. He spent five years at the University of Missouri — a program he rebuilt and increased involvement by around 100 students — and six years before that at the University of Indiana.

It was his time at Indiana, coupled with his undergraduate experiences in college at Illinois, that groomed his appreciation for Big Ten football and marching bands.

Originally, Kastens attended the University of Illinois to become a high-school band director, something he did from 1980-87 at his alma mater of Wheeling High School in Wheeling, Ill.

But during his time at Illinois as a TA with the marching band, he discovered college bands was where he was meant to be.

“Working as a TA with the Marching Illini and being on [the director’s] side of the podium, I then knew that someday I wanted to be a college-band director,” Kastens said. “Had it not been for that, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now. I’d probably be teaching [high school] in central Illinois some place.”

Aside from directing the “Iowa Fight Song” on fall Saturdays, he also teaches two courses in the school of music on marching-band techniques and band arrangements.

UI senior Paul Upmeyer is a former student of one of Kastens’ classes and current leader of the sousaphone section in the Hawkeye Marching Band.

Upmeyer first met Kastens at an all-state music camp at Iowa when he was in seventh grade. While their relationship has developed and changed over the years, one thing has remained the same.

“He always sets us up for success,” Upmeyer said.

Hawkeye drum major Joe Piasecki has also grown close to Kastens in his time with the band.

Piasecki said he appreciates Kastens’ ability to connect on a personal level with members of the band and that it makes being in the band that much more enjoyable.

“Once I got into actually working with band and working as drum major, it went from a student-teacher relationship to almost like a professional friendship,” Piasecki said. “When I think of [Kastens and myself], I think we’re friends.”

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