The Gilbert Marching Band is a force of nature … in size and sound

With his head tilted slightly to the ground, Gilbert High School band director Byron Tinder slowly shuffles around in front of his junior and senior marching band as it plays the Iowa State fight song on a pleasant Monday morning while the sun blazes in the background.

Tinder isn’t watching his band. He’s listening to his band. Meticulously listening, actually. Soon enough, he stops the performance and speaks in an even tone into his bullhorn so that his direction is amplified across the field.

Yes, Tinder uses a bullhorn. It’s necessary with so many band members spread from 30-yard-line to 30-yard-line inside Tiger Stadium. Roughly 20 minutes later, a similar pattern materializes when his freshman and sophomore marching band is on the field.

Interestedly enough, the only time the two bands come together is during home football games in the fall. And when they do? It’s glorious.

Ten years ago, the Gilbert marching band had only 62 members — a respectable number, but not necessarily the standard for a program with such lofty expectations, its own and those of the community. Today though, the marching band is 131 strong and the envy of many similarly-sized school districts across the state. Now you also know why the two groups practice separately.

“We are a very unique band in that our marching bands don’t rehearse as a group together,” Tinder says while sitting comfortably in his massive band room early Monday morning. “The percentage of the student body in band is probably 25 percent and if they were all meeting the same period, you’d run into all kinds of gridlock in the schedule. That’s why we don’t do much movement on the marching band field. You’re going to hear us play different music every Friday night and we’re going to play it well, but we’re going to stand and play it.”

When Tinder came to Gilbert 11 years ago, he made the conscious decision to transition away from competitive marching band. It took too much time and energy from the students, and the outcome was a drastic drop in numbers. After four years under his leadership, the band went from 62 members to 129 and has consistently stayed between 125 and 140 ever since.

“I preach to parents that you can be in band and anything else,” Tinder says. “We want athletes, we want kids who are National Merit scholars, we want kids who are in choir, speech and FFA, and we want kids who hold jobs to be in band. So we’re not going to chase trophies in marching band, but that’s what’s resulted in the growth of our program in numbers. The challenge is to keep the quality of the product high along with the numbers.”

That hasn’t been a problem for the Gilbert band, which is quite apparent when you hear it play under the Friday Night Lights.

Tinder and his pupils thrive on those expectations though. They know spectators aren’t going to race to the concession stand at halftime of home football games. Rather, they’re going to sit right where they are to enjoy the band’s halftime show.

“The expectations here, it’s not just in music, it’s everything,” Tinder says. “It’s the academics, it’s the well-rounded students we produce. To teach in a district with these expectations is really fun. There’s a challenge to it, but I’d rather teach here than a place that didn’t expect great things.”

Those expectations will certainly be amplified this Friday night when, for the third time in eight years, the Gilbert marching band will welcome its Iowa State University brethren to Tiger Stadium for a joint performance. Nearly 500 band members will fill the field for pregame and halftime performances, similar to what they did at the grand opening of the stadium on Aug. 29, 2014 — a raucous occasion that culminated in a fireworks show following a 38-6 victory over Webster City — as well as four years ago on ISU’s second visit to Gilbert.

“It’s a win-win (for both bands) because there’s such a natural connection and partnership between Gilbert and Iowa State,” Tinder says. “We agreed that it works really well for both of us to do this, but it has to work with the schedule. We have to have a home game and they have to have a home game, but this gives them a chance to get a run through for their show on Saturday. Their kids can carpool up here, they can rehearse up here at our Intermediate field, they get a performance here, and then our boosters feed them.

“To have one of the really top collegiate bands in the country in our backyard is a blessing. And then for them to be so accommodating and to be so in tune with the public schools is a neat thing. The whole band department down there understands what we do and is accessible to us. It’s a year-round thing. We are always able to pick up the phone and bounce ideas off of them.”

The Gilbert marching band has been a conduit to the ISU marching band over the years. Currently, a handful of Gilbert graduates now put on the ISU uniform and two — Sura Smadi and Kyle Grossnickle — serve in leadership roles.

“Over the past few years, we’ve probably averaged six to seven (Gilbert graduates as members of the ISU band) per year, which has been really cool,” Tinder says.

As good as Gilbert’s band is, Tinder knows it will not be the featured attraction Friday night. When the Cyclones’ 300-plus members step onto the field, they’ll be in the spotlight and with good reason.

“That band is a force of nature, so we know we’re not going to drive the tempo Friday night,” Tinder says which a chuckle. “We’re just going to hang on and go with them. It’s kind of like when our middle schoolers come over and play with us. We’re going to play our tempo and they’re going to hang on for the ride.”

It can be nerve-wracking to try to play alongside a top-tier Division I college band, but that’s also what makes it exciting. And in past performances, Gilbert’s marching band has more than held its own.

Following it’s warm-up at the Intermediate School, the ISU band will parade over to Tiger Stadium at 6:45 p.m. on Friday. Soon after — at 7:15 p.m., just prior to kickoff — the show will officially begin.

You won’t want to miss it.