By Amber Friedrichsen
Many Iowa State University students associate the fall semester with football season, and no football game is complete without the marching band. Although each instrument has a unique role to play, Kate Heine is one of three drum majors who bring the band together to create their signature sound.
Heine is a graduate in environmental science and anthropology. She discovered a love for the environment at a young age, and she chose these majors to understand how humans impact ecological systems. As a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, she studies subjects ranging from biology to climatology and combines this knowledge with her background in anthropology to explore solutions to environmental problems.
“I love learning about conservation based on what we know has happened to larger habitats and environments, and then predicting what will happen to them in the future,” Heine said. “Sustainable practices always interest me.”
In addition to the environment, Heine also discovered a love for music at a young age. She learned the trumpet in fifth grade before switching to the French horn, then mastering the mellophone. In high school, she played three instruments for different ensembles.
“I played mellophone before school for brass band practice, French horn in school for wind band, and trumpet after school for jazz band,” Heine said. “I’m a fan of the mellophone being played the most, but I love each instrument in its own way.”
She continued to play the mellophone when she joined the Iowa State Marching Band in her freshman year. Heine served as section guide in his second season and mellophone captain in his freshman year before applying for drum major this fall to complete his marching band career.
Heine and the other two drum majors are part of the student band staff. This nine-person team runs the marching band on game days, which begin with a rehearsal at the Bergstrom facility about five hours before kickoff. From there, half the group marches through the tailgate lots, and the other half embarks on the spiritual walk.
“The spiritual walk is when we line up and greet the team as they enter Jack Trice Stadium,” Heine said. “A lot of fans come to watch, and a lot of band families too, because it’s a good way to see their members up close.”
After assembling for a short pep rally on the steps of the Alumni Center, Heine accompanies the group to the stadium for the pre-game performance. While she and her fellow conductors are best known for leading songs from the stands and running the halftime show from the sidelines, they also handle more low-key matters.
“If there are any fires that need to be put out, we are the ones to diffuse the situation,” Heine said. “We install the sound system and headphones for the shows. We help members tighten their chin straps or sew on buttons that come off their uniforms. We even get food for everyone in the third trimester, because by then we haven’t eaten for a few hours.
As drum major, Heine also has responsibilities that go beyond game day. She must memorize musical scores, practice conducting patterns and learn marching sequences outside of rehearsals. She also responds to student emails, attends practices, and marks weekly assignments for group members.
Heine said time management is key to balancing those drum major duties with his education. She devotes her mornings and afternoons to classes and part-time work, then concentrates on the marching band in the evenings. This approach helps him appreciate the group as a break from the academics, and vice versa.
After graduating at the end of the fall 2022 semester, Heine plans to pursue graduate studies in environmental policy and sustainability at the University of Denver. She wants to be a corporate sustainability manager one day and believes the lessons she learned as a member of the group will apply to her future profession.
“Having held various leadership positions over the past few years has helped me improve my communication skills,” Heine said. “I can better understand what people expect of me in certain situations and know how to be effective and efficient in solving problems.”
Heine is also grateful for the friends she has made through the marching band and the constant support she has felt as a drum major.
“I have so many people I know I can rely on in my band family,” Heine said. “I’m a better person because I’ve been part of such an amazing organization, and being around these people has definitely made me who I am today.”