ORANGE CITY, Iowa | As the sun crept over the horizon Friday morning, it cast a glance on a changing landscape in Orange City.
At least where the Pride of the Dutchmen Marching Band is concerned.
For the first time in 42 years, someone other than Steve Connell puts the musicians of MOC-Floyd Valley High School through its paces.
"Percussion! Too much!" Dan Mangold commanded on a microphone as he stood near the top bleacher at De Valois Stadium in Orange City, a football/track/soccer/band complex shared by high schools here and Northwestern College. "We need to back it off a little."
The Pride of the Dutchmen Marching Band, some 146 members strong this season, put the final wraps on yet another early-morning rehearsal, fine-tuning a "Man of Steel" show written and choreographed by Peter Connell, son of the longtime former director who set up shop at the school here in 1975. Steve Connell announced his retirement last spring, a step that barely lasted an eighth-note before he plunged into work at NWC, helping to resurrect a marching and pep band program.
It's not as if the baton for this award-winning prep group has been handed to a rookie. Mangold is beginning his seventh year at MOC-FV. He served as middle school band director the past six years.
I asked what it's like to step into the vacant wooden shoes of a legend.
"It can be a little intimidating, I suppose," Mangold said. "But, I know the kids and Matt (Honken) and I work very well together. We're having a blast."
Honken, the other high school band director, joins Drew Lemke, middle school instructor, and Sheryl Grotenhuis, fifth-grade director as the band faculty serving this school district. All four, Mangold noted with pride, are NWC graduates.
"It's a great program to step into," Mangold reiterated.
The fact he's replacing a retiree is nothing knew. It's the third time in his brief career he's done it. The 2006 Sioux Central High School graduate succeeded Rod Shedenhelm at his alma mater, where Shedenhelm had worked nearly three decades. When Mangold assumed the role as MOC-FV Middle School director of bands, he replaced John Erickson, who had piloted the group for two decades.
"I keep walking into this: Replacing retirees," said Mangold, who turned 30 on Tuesday and remains roughly a quarter-century from retirement.
The 2017 show at MOC-FV is called "Man of Steel," and it follows the Superman story arc across four movements. Speaking of movements, that's what these musicians and flag corps members do: They move!
"We have no props this year," Mangold said. "Much of this show is based on exciting drill or movement and the music that accompanies it. We're using a lot of movement and covering the field to provide excitement through our playing and marching."
The group broke out of the pack last week with a third-place finish among six large bands at the Pursuit of Excellence marching festival in Marshall, Minnesota. After Saturday's appearance in StarFest in Sioux City, the band returns home to host the 14th annual MOC-FV Dutchmen Field Championships on Saturday, Oct. 7.
The practice sessions help Alyssa Glanz sharpen her skill. The senior from Alton, Iowa, got a late start in her final high school marching band season because she spent the summer marching for the Shadow Drum & Bugle Corps in Oregon, Wisconsin, joining MOC-FV percussionist Aaron Howe with the group that prepared for the summer slate with 12-hour rehearsal days.
"I learned a lot about marching technique, extending my range and playing with more dynamics," said Glanz, a section leader.
The Wisconsin group, she said, spent eight weeks playing 15 shows in cities across Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
The only downside? She came home after the Pride of the Dutchmen Marching Band had completed its arduous two-week preseason drilling. Glanz reported to the field with junior Brooke Venema in order to learn her movements.
She's now "connecting" with the music and the movement and can hear the first, second and third parts emerging as musicians grow more confident with each rehearsal and performance.
"Good! You're getting it!" Mangold said from high atop the stadium as Friday's session concluded.
"We have a special connection with Mr. Mangold, because the seniors were his first sixth-graders," Glanz said. "We also had a special connection with Mr. Connell. The two are different and yet so similar."
They both, obviously, had -- and have -- a drive to succeed. Along with a will to bring out the best they can in dozens of students who fill the air, this fall in Orange City, with sounds of "Steel."