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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Sept. 12, 2008

Matthew Smith

ISU associate director of bands Matthew Smith (center) offers advice to members of the saxophone section in the football marching band during a rehearsal last week. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Leader of the band

by Paula Van Brocklin

Matthew Smith knew music was his vocation when he was a middle school student. Unusual? Perhaps.

But when you grow up in a home with your mother playing piano and teaching young, aspiring pianists the joy of music, it's bound to rub off on you.

"Without any doubt, there was never any question that my life's calling was going to be music," Smith said.

Music and teaching are the core of Smith's life. As Iowa State's associate director of bands, he conducts the symphonic band and oversees the athletic band program, including the men's and women's basketball and volleyball pep bands, and the Iowa State University Cyclone Football "Varsity" Marching Band, which consumes most of his time these days.

Practice, practice, practice

Marching band requires time, lots of it. Smith leads the 300-plus-member band in a weeklong band camp each August. Once football season is under way, practices are held Monday through Friday, 4:30 to 5:50 p.m. That's when the students -- representing more than 70 majors -- learn the music and drill formations for the halftime show, perfect the pregame performance, and learn new "stand" tunes and cheers. On Saturday, there's a 90-minute rehearsal plus the three-hour game.

"In some ways, we just get it done, and when we don't get it done, it comes together somehow," Smith said. "I've learned never to get very nervous. I may worry just a little bit, but the band here is so good that when they need to deliver, they're ready."

Game day

During pregame, Smith stands on the 50-yard line to conduct "The Bells of Iowa State." At halftime, he makes sure everyone is in place, and heads up into the stands for a birds-eye view of the show. He leaves the band in good hands, with three drum majors conducting on the field and a staff of undergraduate students assisting along the sidelines.

The past few years, Smith has created routines so the band plays to both sides of the stadium. It's tradition to play toward the press box (west side at Jack Trice), but Smith wants to involve the student section on the stadium's east side.

"Our student section is extremely supportive of us, and we're very thankful for that because it's almost rare at other schools," Smith said.

Smith also applauds the Iowa State athletics department and its support of the band. Athletics director Jamie Pollard and head football coach Gene Chizik both stopped by band camp in August to meet the students.

While the Iowa State marching band is talented enough to compete in national competitions, Smith says that's not a priority for him.

"From my perspective, college bands don't need to compete," he said. "We're here for a different purpose: to entertain the crowd, support the team and have a good time. To me, that's what a college marching band is."

Path to Iowa State

Smith received a bachelor's degree in music education from the University of Illinois. He went home to the East Coast for the next four years where he instructed middle school bands in two Maryland public school systems. While Smith felt completely prepared musically to work with the young band members, he quickly learned teaching music in public schools was about more than choosing scores and teaching chromatic scales.

"There are great challenges, great victories, great defeats in education. Anybody who's been in a classroom knows that," he said.

Smith's ultimate goal was to teach music at the university level, a notion that was solidified when he was at the University of Michigan earning a master's degree in music education.

"I vividly remember being a teaching assistant with the marching band at Michigan my first year, and during band camp I was talking with the assistant director of the band, and I said that this lifestyle is fantastic," he said. "There's no way I want to go back to public school."

Smith kept true to his word, becoming assistant director of bands and visiting lecturer at Michigan from 1999 to 2000. He then led several bands at Baylor University for two years before coming to Iowa State in 2002.

"Iowa State has been extremely supportive," Smith said. "It's a very student-centered faculty."

Michael Golemo, associate professor and chair of the music department, said Smith is an asset to the university's music program.

"I think there are two keys to Matt's success," Golemo said. "He communicates extremely well with our students, faculty, fans, alumni and the athletic department, and he's a superb musician. He has helped to develop our student leaders, and he maintains a high standard of excellence with our athletics bands."

Smith continues his own music education, and will earn his doctorate of musical arts from Michigan State University next spring.

Ties that bind

Smith's love of music launched his career, but working with students is what he finds most fulfilling. Unlike most instructors on campus, Smith sees his marching band students nearly every day, creating strong ties.

"I see some of these students six days a week for four years, at least in the fall semester. It's a very special relationship," he said.

Senior marching band member and drum major Anthony Greiter agrees.

"Mr. Smith makes a point to know his students, numerous as they may be. He notices when a single person is doing an outstanding job, and he will make sure to acknowledge that, whether it's in front of the entire band or one-on-one," Greiter said.

A family affair

Matt is not the only musician in the Smith household. His wife, Melissa, directs the Boone High School band. She also is a flag instructor for the ISU marching band. And when the couple is not occupied with their careers, they spend time with their daughters, Brooke, 4, and Bailey, 2.

Perhaps it's only a matter of time before Brooke and Bailey "march" in their parents' footsteps.


"I've learned never to get very nervous. I may worry just a little bit, but the band here is so good that when they need to deliver, they're ready."

Matthew Smith