IOWA CITY — Although he’s not from Iowa, Eric Bush feels his appointment as the new Hawkeye Marching Band director is somewhat of a homecoming.
“It was sort of common knowledge that Professor (Kevin) Kastens was coming toward the end of his career,” Bush said of Iowa’s beloved marching and concert band director who retired in the spring after 20 years of leadership.
“When it was publicly announced that he was going to be retiring, I had this conversation with my family and said. ‘We have to apply.’ We’d love to get back to the University of Iowa.”
And get back he did, landing the job of associate director of bands in the spring and officially starting in Iowa City on July 2. Most recently, Bush, 35, was serving as assistant director of bands and jazz studies at Penn State University, where he was involved in all operations with the Marching Blue Band.
But he has a black-and-gold past, serving on staff for the Hawkeye Marching Band and Iowa Pep Band from 2012 to 2015, when he was earning his doctorate of musical arts in band conducting at the UI.
The Michigan native started preparing for his first time atop the center ladder at Kinnick Stadium almost immediately after receiving the job offer.
The Gazette caught up with him before a recent practice with the 260 marching Hawkeyes. His crew will take the field for the first time this season Sept. 1 — the home opener against Northern Illinois University.
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Q: Should fans expect big changes in the marching band they’ve come to know?
A: Pregame traditions are sacred, Bush said, and he has no plans to alter the band’s historic run-on, its downfield march to "On Iowa" or its I-O-W-A formation, for example. “All those things are going to remain unchanged,” he said. Halftime, on the other hand, holds room for innovation and — in 2018 — Bush said, “We have the option of using the video board and having audio assistance from the press box upstairs.” Iowa coaches will help introduce performances. Guest artists will participate in collaborations. The UI School of Music could get involved, along with ensembles across Johnson County. For the Sept. 15 game against the University of Northern Iowa, country music artist Pat Green will perform “Wave on Wave” with members of the UI and UNI marching bands — in honor of the new tradition of waving up at pediatric patients in the neighboring UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Q: What is your favorite stadium to visit, from a band perspective?
A: “The one that is sort of the grandest is the big house of Michigan. It’s just a huge stadium — 110,000 people.”
Q: What makes Kinnick a stadium that bands like to visit?
A: “The crowd is more on top of the action, so it’s a little bit steeper there. It’s almost more intimidating,” he said. “The other thing is our sidelines are a little bit thinner, so the crowd is closer to the field. When you’re on the field in Kinnick, there are times when it’s louder than in places like Michigan.”
Q: What is the biggest difference between playing in the marching band for football games and the pep band for basketball games?
A: “There is no marching maneuvering … so the energy has to come from the sound,” he said. “We encourage the kids to really get in their dance moves. There are a lot of horn moves that happen. The energy is a little bit different, in terms of how we create it.”
Q: What band section do you see as an “unsung hero?”
A: “Probably the drum line. Those folks in the drum line put in as much if not more time than the rest of the Hawkeye Marching Band. They are one of the only sections in the band that memorizes all their music. … You always see them in here just a few minutes earlier than anyone else.”
Q: Has anything changed in marching bands over the past decade?
A: “The biggest thing would be the collaboration with the audio and video.”
Q: Is there something you think will be significantly different for marching bands in the future?
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A: “I think light shows are going to become a thing,” he said, noting many stadium lights are becoming easier to turn on and off. “We are going to start having those sort of production elements involved as well.”
Q: What do you hope never changes?
A: The school traditions, some of which go back centuries. “I think the tradition that I like the most, that comes directly from the Hawkeye Marching Band, is at the end of every rehearsal we end with the I-O-W-A cheer.”
Q: What is your favorite college fight song?
A: The only answer to that is "On Iowa."
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