ASBDA Rehearsal

This aerial photo shows Maquoketa and Eleanor Roosevelt middle school students rehearsing for the American School Band Directors Association regional conference in June.

At a festival two years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School Band Director Dan Norman and Maquoketa Middle School Band Director Jay Kahn discovered their bands had prepared the same piece of music for festival performance. So after the last band had performed at the festival, the two bands combined to play their shared piece. 

“Too many bands arrive, play their prepared music for the judges, and then leave,” commented Kahn. “They really miss out on a big benefit of the festival experience, which is to share music with other bands. To have our two bands combine on the spur of the moment to make music together is one of the most moving festival experiences I’ve had in my career.”

The American School Band Directors Association (ASBDA) convened for a regional conference in Dubuque June 21. A highlight of the conference was a concert presented by the combined bands of Maquoketa Middle School and Dubuque’s Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School — a result of that incident two years earlier. 

The Maquoketa Middle School bands have been attending the annual large group festival hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School for the past few years. After witnessing each other’s performances, a mutual admiration has grown between the two band programs, according to Kahn. Aiding the relationship is the fact that Kahn and Norman have been good friends for years.

The ASBDA was founded in Iowa, and now has members in every state. Its emphasis is on research intended to help band instruction in grade K-12 schools, both public and private. Membership is by invitation, and the prospective member must have a sponsor and at least three other ASBDA members who can vouch for the candidate’s integrity as an effective teacher. Playing a concert before an audience of ASBDA members is like playing in front of an audience full of experienced music judges, Kahn said.

Since the emphasis is on grade schools, concerts at ASBDA gatherings are usually given by elementary, middle, and high school bands. The problem is that it is difficult to find a band that is able to field a full complement of players during the summer months since the students scatter after the final bell rings for summer break, Kahn said. 

That is why the Maquoketa and ERMS bands combined for this year’s performance. Norman and Kahn shared conducting duties. Both bands prepared the same music during the final months of the school year, making the final ASBDA performance possible with just two rehearsals combining the bands. 

“Dan really did a great job of hosting us and planning it all out, right down to the pizza parties for our students during the breaks,” Kahn said. 

By all accounts, the concert was a rousing success, with the combined bands producing a big, rich, symphonic sound that brought an extended ovation from the critical but supportive audience of ASBDA members and parents. Both Norman and Kahn commented repeatedly on how lucky they are to have such great students.