CALS student doubles as a drum major

Kate Heine kneeling on the ground, holding a finger up to her mouth in a "shh" gesture
Kate Heine, senior in environmental science and anthropology, is passionate about the environment and about music. She is following both of those passions at Iowa State through her academic studies and involvement with the ISU Marching Band.

By Amber Friedrichsen

Many students at Iowa State University associate fall semester with football season, and no football game is complete without the marching band. While each instrument has a unique part to play, Kate Heine is one of three drum majors who bring the band together to create its signature sound.

Heine is a senior 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 issues.

“I love learning about conservation based on what we know has happened to habitats and larger environments, and then predicting what will happen to them in the future,” Heine said. “Sustainable practices are always interesting to 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 transitioning to the French horn, then mastering the mellophone. In high school, she played all three instruments for different ensembles.

“I would play the mellophone before school for marching band practice, the French horn during school for concert band, and the trumpet after school for jazz band,” Heine said. “I’m partial to the mellophone having played it the most, but I like each instrument in their own individual way.”

She continued to play the mellophone when she joined Iowa State’s marching band her freshman year. Heine served as a section guide in her sophomore season and a mellophone captain her junior year before applying for drum major this fall to round out her marching band career.

Heine and the two other drum majors are a part of the marching band’s student staff. This nine-person team manages the marching band on game days, which start with a rehearsal at the Bergstrom Facility about five hours prior to kickoff. From there, half of the group parades through tailgate lots, and the other half sets off on the spirit walk.

“The spirit walk is when we line up and welcome the team as they enter Jack Trice Stadium,” Heine said. “A lot of fans come and watch, and a lot of band families do, too, because it’s a good way to see their members up close.”

After reassembling for a short pep rally on the steps of the Alumni Center, Heine walks the band to the stadium for the pregame performance. While she and her conducting counterparts are best known for directing songs in the stands and leading the halftime show from the sidelines, they attend to more discrete matters as well.

“If there are any fires that need put out, we are the ones to diffuse the situation,” Heine said. “We are the ones setting up the sound system and the headsets for the shows. We help members tighten their chin straps or sew buttons that pop off their uniforms back on. We even get everyone food in the third quarter because by that time we haven’t eaten for a few hours.”

As a 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 rehearsal. She also responds to student emails, takes attendance at practice, and grades band members’ weekly homework assignments.

Heine said time management is key to balancing these drum major duties with her education. She dedicates her mornings and afternoons to coursework and working a part-time job, and then turns her focus to marching band in the evenings. This approach helps her appreciate band as a break from academics, and vice versa.

After graduating at the end of the fall 2022 semester, Heine plans on pursuing a graduate degree in environmental policy and sustainability through the University of Denver. She wants to be a corporate sustainability manager someday, and believes the lessons she has learned as a band member will be applicable to her future profession.

“Being in various leadership positions the past few years has helped me improve my communication skills,” Heine said. “I can better understand what people need from me in certain situations and I know how to be effective and efficient in solving issues.”

Heine is also grateful for the friends she made through marching band and the steady beat of support she has felt as drum major.

“I have so many people I know I can rely on in my band family,” Heine said. “I am a better person because I have been a part of such an amazing organization, and being surrounded by these people has definitely shaped me into who I am today.”