May 21, 2024

High school band director isn’t afraid to try new things during his first year

Indoor marching band gives young musicians another opportunity to improve and have fun

Adam Kallal's first year as the new band director of Newton High School has been an eventful one. Not only has he taken the program in a new direction with the amplified productions and emotional connections to the music, he also introduced indoor marching band to the school.

Adam Kallal was not afraid to jump in to a new activity during his first year as the new band director at Newton High School. Or if he was afraid, he didn’t show it. Either way the success of indoor marching band has showed him that students are eager to try his approach to the program.

Before taking the job as band director in Newton High School, Kallal worked as the assistant band director for Lincoln High School in Des Moines and taught fifth grade band at five elementary schools in Des Moines Public Schools. Altogether, he split his time with six schools. These days, he only has to concentrate on two.

Kallal teaches lessons four days a week at Berg Middle School, but much of his time is spent in the high school band rooms. He’s made the most of it, too. Within his first year taking over the program, marching band got a Division 1 rating at state contest and bumped up in placement and scores from the previous year.

“That was in all of our competitions, so that was really awesome to see,” Kallal says. “We definitely did a different direction in the theme for our show. We made it a little more ‘production-y’ and got a big train prop that we took down the field. It was pretty involved! We used ‘Crazy Train’ but we made it a slow song.”

Coupled with the popular concert band piece “Adrenaline Engines,” the marching band certainly maintained its theme for its fall show and got kids excited for marching band. In the winter season, the marching band started its first indoor marching program for Winter Guard International.

“We had a smaller group, but since it’s indoors it sounds just as big and we can do a little more theatrical stuff, so there’s more dance movements involved,” Kallal says. “We still had drills and marched around and played, but we were able to do it in a little more of an intimate setting than marching band.”

Audiences can even distinctly hear the flutes and piccolos from the indoor group. Kallal said there are big circuits for indoor marching band in other states, but it is slowly gaining headway in Iowa. Newton is one of the few 4A high schools in the state that offers the activity.

During the 2022-2023 school year, the indoor marching band went to three competitions. As the only school in its class, Newton was able to take home first place finishes. Kallal is crossing his fingers that other school districts take notice and bump up the competition.

Apart from jazz band — which also saw great success this year — and class concerts, there are few music-related winter activities for Newton students.

“(Jazz band is) saxophones, trumpets, trombones and a rhythm section. So if you don’t play any of those and you aren’t in the top echelon, you’re kind of out of luck,” Kallal says, noting the indoor marching band offered a new opportunity for about 45 students to explore.

Rehearsals began in early December, with a few camps on weekends. The season lasted until April, but it will likely be adjusted in the coming years. Students responded very well to the new activity. Kallal says they did not know what to expect at first, but he was impressed by how well they latched on.

“I think we turned a lot of heads, too, which is really exciting,” Kallal says. “We’ll see what happens next year. I have some ideas how to rework it and make it better and more accommodating for students.”

Not every new teacher would take on a new activity. Perhaps others would wait a year to get settled in to their new role. Not Kallal. No way. It was part of his plan from the beginning to get students excited about fine arts and to energize the band kids.

“I wanted to start just doing more modern shows, like incorporating electronics and more dance movements and making it a little more concept-based,” Kallal says. “Productions with a little bit more meaning behind them. I see what other schools are doing and I see that is what is succeeding competitively.”

Kallal wants to match the competitive drive of other districts. Coupled with the higher productions, “wow” factors and more emotional connections, Kallal says it makes students perform better and gets them more involved with the show. It also makes for engaging shows for audiences.

All the while the sense of community in the music department is strong among students and faculty. Kallal says band — and all fine arts, for that matter — can feel like family, which instills a level of responsibility among students. The band and music rooms almost form another world where students feel like they belong.

“Students come out of their shells, they create friendships and get to do crazy things, especially when you’re talking about marching band! If you take all the stuff away and think about it, it’s a really weird idea,” Kallal says with a laugh. “But it gives them a sense of belonging and that they’re a part of something.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.