Band director reflects on historic year



Kevin Kessler practices with the pep band before the Omaha v. SDSU

Sam Schauer, Reporter

Kevin Kessler has had a storybook year as the director of the Pride, and it’s continuing as the pep bands director and an educator.

Kevin Kessler has a doctorate degree in music education, is an alumnus of South Dakota State University and teaches many instrumental music classes for music and non-music majors. While he teaches classes, he is also in charge of the Pride of the Dakotas, the SDSU pep bands and is the director of concert band.  

Although Kessler is busy directing the pep band and the Pride, he still loves the atmosphere the members give off on game days.

“Like the members, I enjoy the performances,” Kessler said. “I think anybody in an ensemble like that just enjoys the roar of the crowd, enjoys their part in the game day culture and atmosphere. I’m the same in that regard.”

During Kessler’s time as a student at SDSU, he participated in groups like the Pride, the symphonic band and even worked at KSDJ. While he was involved in many activities, he cared much for the Pride and its members.

“I came from a very small school and didn’t have experience with how a large marching band works,” said Andi Fouberg, president of the Alumni Association and former Pride member with Kessler. “It was good to have people like him to help make it all work.”

Kessler graduated in 1998 and worked at Brandon Valley High School. He had many roles at Brandon Valley before leaving in 2012 for a graduate teaching assistantship to get his doctorate at the University of Iowa.

While at Iowa, he directed the pep bands and a concert band while taking classes for this doctorate.

“It was a fantastic time down there,” Kessler said. “I learned so much, and it set me up so well for this job.”

After graduating from Iowa, Kessler was hired at SDSU in 2015 to oversee the Pride and pep bands.

“Kevin loves the Pride, and knowing someone who loves it that much was going to take it over was, and still is, exciting,” Fouberg said.

The start of the 2022-2023 school year started off an emotional one for Kessler as he got the opportunity to conduct the national anthem at the Iowa-SDSU football game.

Kessler said the original plan was the Pride was supposed to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2021, and then bring the Pride to the Iowa-SDSU game this year, but with the Pandemic pushing everything back, it wasn’t feasible.  

Kessler and the Iowa marching band director are close friends as they went through the assistantship together. He said they were both disappointed he couldn’t bring the Pride down, but his family was still going to the game.

“He said, ‘well you’re still going to conduct the anthem,’” said Kessler. “It was a great honor… it was something I never got to do as a graduate teaching assistant.”

Kessler said the football game was fun to watch and be involved in, but his focus was on the 2022 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“The hardest part of all of it was I knew in late February of 2020 that we were going to go,” Kessler said. “We kept it quiet for 13 months before finally making the announcement at the end of April 2021.”

What came next was months of preparation and funding before leaving for New York.  When they got there, it was all excitement and exhilaration, but mainly relief, he said.

“There comes a moment where you just want to do it,” Kessler said. “You want to stop making phone calls and sending emails and rehearsing, and you just want to go. It’s just time to go.”

On the day of the parade, he was moved by all the support of the Pride supporters that came to New York.

“I have always viewed the band program as ‘the front porch’ of the university,” said David Reynolds, the director of the School of Performing Arts. “Outside constituents and Dr. Kessler do a great job leading the Pride of the Dakotas to embrace that role.”

Kessler thought he was only going to have to think about Macy’s, but he noticed the football team kept winning.

After the team had won against Montana State, Kessler and the pride were ready to go to Frisco.

“You can make a choice,” he said. “You can either be tired and go ‘ah man, we’re going to have to do this again,’ or ‘hey, we get to do this again!’ There are a lot of schools sitting at home wishing they could do this.”

When the Jacks won, Kessler knew what a historic year this was for SDSU, and he couldn’t remember the last time SDSU was featured on two national stages.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find that in the same year,” he said.

As for an alumnus, Kessler is amazed this year happened, and considers it a win for many SDSU alumni. 

“When we switched to Division I, it didn’t just affect athletics, but the whole university,” said Kessler.  “It has been an extraordinary period of growth for the university… I’m really fortunate to have watched it from the outside looking in, and then coming back and to be a part of that.  I’m very grateful.”