In a postgame lull, with workers scrambling to set up the the Pinstripe Bowl trophy presentation podium, Iowa football players tried getting the marching band’s attention.
The team wanted to hear the Hawkeye Victory Polka again to fuel their bowl victory celebration.
“We couldn’t turn them down,” drum major Analisa Iole said. “I started conducting it. We already played it twice and we kept playing it.”
No Iowa victory is complete until the marching band breaks out the polka, commonly known as ‘In Heaven There Is No Beer.’ It’s a moment after a win that means as much to the band members as the Hawkeyes waiting to hear it played.
“It’s really special,” junior mellophone player Michael Janssen said. “It’s a tradition I don’t see other Big Ten schools have. They might play a standard tune when they win or something else, but we have this very special, and specific, song that we play.”
In Heaven There is No Beer
Iowa started the Hawkeye Victory Polka in the 1960s. The marching band played it through 2001, when some fans wrote to the university complaining about the lyrics possibly promoting binge drinking, according to marching band director Kevin Kastens.
The marching band stopped playing the song for about a week before public outcry led the university to reverse its policy. The administration asked Kastens for the band to only play the Hawkeye Victory Polka after wins.
“We try not to overdo it,” said Kastens, who retired in May. “The only exception is for a big win like against Ohio State this season.”
The band takes the song seriously, in part because the band takes ownership of it. A drum major, not Kastens, conducts the tune. Some band members, like Iole and Janssen, grew up Iowa fans and knew the song by heart before arriving. Others quickly learn the importance of if after the first football win each season.
“You do it once and see how wild it is, with the cheerleaders dancing and fans screaming and you want to do it again,” Iole said.
The band is protective of the Hawkeye Victory Polka in the same way a baseball team treats a potential no-hitter. Several band members mentioned they consider it a jinx to play the Hawkeye Victory Polka before or during a game.
For the band, an Iowa win doesn’t officially count until the polka starts.
“We play the first note when the clock is counting down,” sophomore baritone player Blaine Schmidt said. “Technically we aren’t supposed to play in the game, but it’s this moment where we get to express through music what the win means.”
That’s why we drink it here
Over time, the song became as much a part of Iowa’s victory routine as the team walking off the field in ‘The Swarm.’
It’s common for band members to hear the student section, seated nearby the band in Kinnick Stadium, to ask for the song — a lot like the way the team did at the Pinstripe Bowl.
When kicker Keith Duncan lined up for a game-winning field goal against Michigan in 2016, Janssen’s family couldn’t tell if the kick went through the uprights from their seats.
So, they watched the band, waiting to see it started playing the victory polka.
“We had the best angle in the stadium on it,” Janssen said. “My family in the stands was looking at us for our reaction to see what happened.”
And when we’re gone from here
For decades, the original sheet music was lost. The marching band learned the song by ear with upperclassmen helping newer band members as needed.
Thanks to a stroke of pure luck, Kastens found the original handwritten score when preparing to move the band’s files into the Iowa School of Music Voxman Building in 2016.
“I was very surprised because I knew it was a musical tradition the students passed down to each other,” Kastens said. “I never knew there were parts.”
The band was just as shocked as Kastens about the news.
“From what I remember, it was disbelief,” senior trumpet player Matt Buhr said. “We have really been playing it the incorrect way this entire time?”
It was more incomplete than incorrect. Somewhere along the way, the marching band stopped playing an additional harmony part. The original arrangement required some band members switch from a melody to the harmony.
“It’s a much fuller, more authentic version of what was done in the 1960s,” Kastens said.
Most band members don’t use the sheet music for the Hawkeye Victory Polka. They end up memorizing the song or playing it by ear because that’s how they first learned it.
When Kastens and the band members listen, they can tell the subtle differences in today’s version compared to a rendition from four years ago. They don’t think the average fan can pick it up, though.
“The best way I can compare it to, is you think the lyrics are one word,” Burr said, “but happens to be a different word that sounds the same.”
Our friends will be drinking all our beer
When North Dakota State kicker Cam Pedersen hit a game-winning 37-yard field goal over Iowa as time expired in September 2016, he took away the chance of hearing the Hawkeye Victory Polka in Kinnick Stadium.
Or so the band thought.
With the Bison celebrating on the field, their marching band broke out the song. The move nearly created a rivalry on the spot.
The band’s connection to the polka runs so deep that listening to a different band play their victory song in their stadium shook the band the same way the defeat did the football team.
“It’s now a couple of years after the game and I remember it exactly,” Buhr said. “I will always carry a little chip on my shoulder because my own victory polka was played in my face.”