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MUSCATINE, Iowa — Band camp was off with a bang at Muscatine High School on Monday morning where the Muskie Marching Band will be hard at work on this year’s show “Illusions” all week.

The show’s theme is magic and the band hopes to bring a bit of it into the performance.

“We are hoping to pull off some magic on the marching field this fall,” Director Jeff Heid said. “In fact, we’re hoping to pull off something pretty big if we can, that’ll make people kinda go ‘Whoa, how’d they do that?’”

Drum Majors Kaleb Drawbaugh, junior; Kristi Heinberg, senior; and Molly Matkovich, junior; are excited to share the show with an audience, too. This is Drawbaugh’s and Matkovich’s first foray into being drum majors — the student conductors of the marching band — and all three just returned from drum major camp last week.

The show sweeps from slow to fast to slow again, Heinberg described, and features Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” “Firebird Suite” is an orchestral piece and the moment it comes into play in the music is their favorite part of the show, all three drum majors said.

Drawbaugh described it as “that really epic moment of that huge orchestral work just coming together on the field where it’s blaring and this huge wall of sound is coming at you.”

“You’re waiting for that moment and there it is,” Heinberg said.

The trio are enjoying their stint as drum majors, they said.

“I think it’s fun to conduct. It’s kind of, like, a different standpoint. You’re used to looking at the conductor, but it’s really cool to be the conductor,” said Heinberg, who was also a drum major last year. “I enjoy being able to teach and have my peers ... be able to come to me for any kind of help.”

Drawbaugh feels similarly, saying, “I really like the teaching aspect of it where you have this experience of being in the ensemble and trying to make yourself as great as possible but now you get to spread that throughout the entire group and improve the band on a much higher level than you could before.”

“What I really about being drum major enjoy is just the fact that you get to really apply everything that you’ve learned over the years,” Matkovich added. “It’s kind of a more complicated way, but it’s also rewarding at the same time.”

These three are experiencing a different marching band than past drum majors have — with the changes to the band program this year, marching band is completely voluntary. It used to be that students had to participate in marching band if they wanted to be part of the concert band. But this year, students who don’t want to march were able to choose to be in concert band instead and those who are marching get to be in their own band.

While Heid, Drawbaugh, Heinberg and Matkovich said they’d been worried that that change would dwindle the marching band’s numbers, it’s actually had the opposite effect: numbers have increased. Heid recalled he’d expected about a 60-member band with the change, but has 90 students involved and there are 20 more students involved in the band program overall.

“It’s eliminated the people who weren’t as excited to be in the program,” Matkovich added.

That has created a better attitude in the band, Drawbaugh explained. He’s especially seen a difference in the freshmen population participating in marching band, he said, they’re more excited to work and learn and less intimidated by the experience since all of them had the opportunity to choose to be there.

The renewed focus on concert band creates a better learning opportunity for students, Heid added, explaining that students learn more in concert band where their only focus is music, without the additional work of moving around on a field.

The choice to avoid marching band should also encourage more students to participate in band, since some students have been choosing not to be in band at all when marching band was a requirement for concert band.

“The hope is that we can reach more kids,” Heid said. “And that was the other thing, we felt like by doing what we were doing we were losing some students who are exceptionally talented students ... who would benefit from being in our program, but because they were scared or they didn’t like or they didn’t want to deal with marching band or it was too much of a time commitment, whatever their reason was, they were dropping and so we were losing them and I’ve just watched too many All-State caliber kids walk away.”

It’s not the only difference in the band program. There’s also a new Advanced Placement (AP) music theory class.

Previously, the music theory class had been one semester-long class. The class in its AP form is year long and geared toward preparing students interested in pursuing music in college to do so. In addition to band students, the class is also open to choir and orchestra students.

Students will be learning an upper level skill set in that class, Heid said. They’ll be ear training and even composing music.

Heinberg, who plans to be a music education major in college, will be taking the class, even though she’s already taken the class in its prior form.

“They are being taught a very high level set of skills,” Heid said, adding, “It’s really kind of a cool thing because now these kids are going to have that knowledge. Especially if they want to be a music major, that’s going to put them ahead of the curve from other students.”

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Education and general news reporter, as well as film critic