UI senior to graduate as first REACH student in Hawkeye Marching Band

Jack Emptage enrolled at the University of Iowa with two objectives in mind — pursue his passion for music and join the marching band. Now in his senior year, Emptage is the first student in the UI REACH program to become a proud Hawkeye Marching Band member.



Riley Davis, News Reporter

While music is for many people a form of entertainment, to University of Iowa senior Jack Emptage — who plays the piano, baritone, harmonica, steel drums, mandolin, ukulele, and guitar — it’s a passion deeply ingrained in his daily life.

That passion carried him through college, where he eventually achieved his goal to bring his love for music onto the Kinnick Stadium field with the Hawkeye Marching Band.

After enrolling in the UI Realizing Education and Career Hopes program, a two- to four-year comprehensive transition program in the College of Education for students ages 18 to 25 with intellectual, cognitive, and learning disabilities, Emptage said he immediately wanted to join as many musical organizations as he could on campus.

Emptage joined the guitar club his freshman year, hoping to connect with others who had a similar passion, he said. Emptage loved that the student organization performed for seniors at the local rehabilitation center and played on open-mic nights at The Mill in downtown Iowa City.

Emptage said he later got involved in the university and pep bands, but still wished that he could join the Hawkeye Marching Band.

“I did [marching band] when I was in high school and I loved that very much — so much that I wanted to do it again in college,” he said. “I was originally going to audition during my freshman year, but unfortunately it wouldn’t work with REACH’s mandatory schedules.”

Although he was unable to join the marching band, Emptage said he filled his schedule with classes from the UI School of Music, where he learned to play steel drums, and continued to be involved with clubs across campus.


In the second semester of his junior year, Emptage learned that his schedule was flexible enough to allow for an opportunity to audition for the marching band.

Hawkeye Marching Band Director Eric Bush said he first met Emptage in the lobby of the Voxman Music Building after a UI Symphony Band and Concert Band performance that Bush had conducted. Over time, the pair became better acquainted through the music school and Bush said he quickly learned about Emptage’s goal to join the marching band.

After his audition in late April of that year, Emptage was required to prepare a three- to five-minute musical piece from his repertoire that would showcase both his technical and lyrical abilities. He also had to prove his ability to sight read and demonstrate mark time — a marching technique that involves raising heels in time to the music.

Emptage also had to sit down for an interview with Bush to discuss his prior experience, his aspirations, and why he wanted to join the marching band. It took nearly two-and-a-half months, Bush said, but Emptage finally received the news he had been waiting for.

“It was the longest wait. I remember checking my email every day for the next two months. Then, the week after the Fourth of July I got an email from Dr. Bush, saying that I was chosen to play in the marching band,” Emptage said. “I was so excited when I got the email, I couldn’t wait to tell my folks. I was jumping up and down like, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’”

During his time at the UI, he interned with the Mariott Conference Center in Coralville. After graduating, he hopes to get a job in the hospitality industry in Minnesota, following his career focus.

At the UI, the Hawkeye Marching Band was always his dream, Bush said.

“He’s one of the most enthusiastic young men that I know,” Bush said. “He loves everything about the Hawkeye Marching Band — he loves the activity itself, he loves the preparation, he loves knowing about how the shows were designed. He’s just a natural lover of music, which is what makes him a joy to work with.”