On a bright Saturday afternoon, Quentin Marquez takes the field in Kinnick Stadium, home of the Iowa Hawkeye football team. Wearing a foot-high, blazing white hat with a bright yellow plume, he leads the 250-member Hawkeye Marching Band into position. The late-September weather is brisk, but Marquez’s drum major uniform - as well as the body heat of 70,000 fans - keeps him warm.
He’s come a long way since playing trumpet in the Glenwood Middle School marching band.
Marquez, a Glenwood native and sophomore political science major at the University of Iowa, earned the role of Hawkeye Marching Band drum major in the spring of 2012. As its highest-ranking undergraduate member, Marquez plays a central role in the band. His instrument: a bright white staff called a mace, weighing about two pounds, wrapped in silver chains for grip and topped with a golden dome. The mace doesn’t make a sound, but Marquez’s performance with it is at the heart of the marching band’s halftime tradition.
“I was learning how to play a different instrument, but I was playing with my hands - that’s how I always saw it,” said Marquez of his first few months learning the mace.
In the fall of 2011 Marquez enrolled in classes at the University of Iowa. He was immediately interested in joining the marching band. Having played the euphonium at his high school (Creighton Prep), Marquez joined the Hawkeye Marching Band as a baritone player. He enjoyed his role in the brass section, but it wasn’t long before he noticed the drum major.
“I remember seeing our old drum major do a mace demonstration for everyone,” Marquez said. “I thought, ‘That’s pretty cool.’”
Even though he had only one year of experience on the Iowa squad and no high school marching band experience (Creighton Prep doesn’t have one), Marquez set his sights on the role of drum major as soon as he found out there was an opening. Starting in August of last year, he spent hours every week working on mace exercises with names like the back pass, the butterfly twirl, the flat spin, the forward flourish, and the aerial, in which he hurls his staff high into the air and catches it.
While Marquez learned the basics of mace from other drum majors during football season, afterward he was on his own. He then turned to a digital mentor.
“I relied mostly on Youtube videos,” he said. “I would watch a Youtube video, see a trick, go outside, and try it 100 times.”
At times, as he passed his white mace rapidly between his hands, he would notice that it was turning red - after hours of practice, his hands had become raw, and his mace was getting stained with blood.
“I went through a lot of band aids.”
Eight months and a few injuries later, Marquez and four others auditioned for the part of drum major in front of a panel of band, cheer, and dance staff, as well as over 100 members of the marching band. The candidates were tested through a conducting drill, a marching drill, an interview and a three-minute mace demonstration.
According to Hawkeye Marching Band Director Kevin Kastens, the most challenging part of the audition was the mace demonstration, which must be performed by each candidate “as if they are in Kinnick Stadium.” This means that the candidate doesn’t just throw a stick in the air, but moves - jumping, flipping, tumbling, even dancing, all while twirling a mace around his body. Marquez was low on marching experience compared to some other members of the band, but gymnastics elements were where candidates either failed or shined.
So when Marquez did the splits in the middle of his demonstration, he knew he’d made an impression. Fifteen minutes after his audition, Marquez was named the Hawkeye Marching Band’s new drum major.
Marquez traces his athletic abilities back to Glenwood and Gary Giaffoglione, owner of Gary’s Tumbling.
“I did a lot of stuff with Gary when I was little,” he said, “and it really paid off.”
Giaffoglione, who refers to Quentin Marquez as “Q”, remembers him as “one of the most advanced male tumblers to come out of my program.”
“There wasn’t much he could not do,” he said. “He was just an all-around good tumbler.”
Gymnastics abilities don’t play a minor role in drum majoring. During the “back bend,” which every Big Ten drum major performs at pregame, the drum major crouches with his knees just off the ground, balances on the sides of his heels, bends over backwards, and touches his head to the ground. As Giaffoglione knows, this is no easy feat.
“That’s where the flexibility comes in,” he said. “Most guys tend to get a little tight after a few years.”
Marquez’s responsibilities as drum major aren’t limited to Saturdays. In fact, most of them come before the school year even starts. Marquez cites his primary responsibility as the summer marching band camp, during which he teaches first-year students the fundamentals of marching before leading the whole band in their pregame and halftime routines.
The task of leading a marching band which includes experienced seniors, as a sophomore with no high school marching experience, can be intimidating. But Marquez “has very quickly become a respected leader among his peers,” said Kastens.
Marquez also gets the band warmed up at daily rehearsals, conducts the band during games, gives a pep talk before every game, and even practices with the cheer squad. On a given day, Marquez will finish class, hold a clinic for a high school band, go to marching practice, music practice and cheer practice, and get home by 11 pm.
“It gets a little crazy at times,” he said.
But it’s all worth the Saturday gameday experience. Just before entering Kinnick Stadium, Marquez stands in the entrance tunnel, the band waiting anxiously behind him. He first taps the ceiling of the tunnel entrance with the end of his mace, then leads the band to the edge of the field before a sea of black and gold. Before taking the field, a voice comes from the loudspeakers: “It’s time to get ready for the boom!” Immediately after the announcement the bass drums play a single, loud count, which booms through the whole stadium. The band, led by Marquez, marches onto the field to deafening cheers.
“The excitement doesn’t die away,” said Marquez. “The nerves do a little, but the excitement doesn’t go away.”
Marquez is poised to be one of the best drum majors in the Big Ten Conference. At Smith Walbridge Drum Major Camp, a clinic Marquez attended this summer with over 500 other drum majors, Marquez earned First Class Certification. This distinction, according to Kastens, is given to fewer than 5% of the drum majors at the camp.
“When fans see him in the next game,” Kastens said, “he will look just as seasoned as drum majors who have been around for several years.”
Marquez has plenty of time to improve; he can hold the position of drum major as long as he wants. That means Marquez could continue marching in Iowa City wearing the same colors he wore when he started in Glenwood - black and gold.