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WATERLOO | Northeast Iowa high school marching bands will be putting their best foot forward Saturday.

A total of 16 bands will perform their eight-minute shows during the State Marching Band Festival at Waterloo Memorial Stadium. The day starts at 10:15 a.m. with the East Buchanan High School band and ends with Waterloo's West High School band performing at 2:50 p.m.

“There’s a 15-minute slot for everyone in which time they have to get on the field and off the field so that we can keep everything running smoothly,” said Mike Conrad, co-director of West’s band.

Hosted by West bi-annually, the annual festival is sanctioned by the Iowa High School Music Association. It is one of four that high school bands will participate in across the northern half of the state Saturday. Southern Iowa bands will hold their state festivals the following weekend.

A panel judges the performances, giving each band a division rating from one to five. “The standard is one, every band is hoping to get a Division I rating,” said Conrad.

At other marching competitions places are awarded as judges tally up the points. Division ratings, though, only reflect the performance of individual bands.

“It’s more the bands are sort of competing against themselves at this one,” said Conrad.

Some bands that will be performing Saturday -- like East, West and Independence high schools -- participate in marching invitationals before arriving at the state festival. For others, like Denver High School, Saturday is the only time the 55-member band performs its show outside of Friday night football games.

“It’s a good motivator,” said Denver band director Dan Cooper. It helps students to work hard. Unlike the games, they know somebody beyond friends and family will be watching.

“We use the state festival to get feedback about (whether) are we doing things right,” he said. Cooper also uses the judges’ comments to assess his own approach to teaching marching.

His band is performing a tribute to pop singer Michael Jackson based on the songs “Thriller,” “I Want You Back” and “I’ll be There.”

“This week we’re really just working on some fine tuning, just making sure everybody’s music is memorized,” said Cooper. “The biggest goal is to achieve a Division I rating. But there’s still more to it, there’s still room to get better after achieving that.”

There are two things the Denver students like about the state festival, said Cooper.

“They like to be able to perform in front of the crowd,” he said, because the audience is specifically there to see the performances and appreciates their efforts.

In addition, "they like seeing what other kids are doing around the state,” said Cooper, noting, as a small school, Denver is scheduled early in the day. “It’s pretty cool for them to stick around and see the 3A and 4A schools.”

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